Drinkers abandoned intentions to cut back on alcohol after ‘freedom day’

Date Published

29th December 2021




Less than half (46%) of drinkers* who vowed to cut back on alcohol after restrictions lifted stuck to their plans, according to new research from alcohol education charity Drinkaware.

While 23% managed to cut down for a little while but fell back into old habits, a further 23% failed completely despite still wanting to reach their goal.

The reasons why people said they hadn’t managed to reduce their drinking at all included it helping them with stress and anxiety (49%), relieving boredom (36%) and it being something to do socially with family and friends (18%).

But with half (50%) of those who failed to cut back aiming to drink less in January - 22% of who want to take part in Dry January - the appetite to make a change remains strong.

In the summer the annual Drinkaware Monitor survey**, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charity, asked 9,137 UK adults about their alcohol use. 17% (1,336) of those responding who were UK drinkers said they were intending to reduce their drinking as lockdown eased. However, when 873 of these participants were asked in December how they had got on, only 46% had cut down consistently.

The tactics they said helped them the most were taking drink-free days (35%), avoiding drinking on a ‘school’/work night (23%), avoiding having alcohol in the house (19%) and staying off alcohol for a fixed amount of time (16%). Setting a drinking limit (13%), swapping to lower strength or alcohol-free drinks (9%) and recording how much they were drinking (5%) also made a difference.

The pandemic had a huge impact on the habits of UK drinkers with 21% (9.2 million) drinking more during the first lockdown, dropping to 13% (the equivalent of 5.7 million) in May 2021**. This was more likely to be ingrained for high-risk drinkers with a third (30%) drinking more in May than before the pandemic.

Annabelle Bonus, Drinkaware’s director of evidence and impact said: “Even with the best of intentions it can be incredibly tough to reduce the amount you drink, especially once you’ve got into the habit of having more. The current uncertainty about Omicron is also likely to be contributing to feelings of stress and anxiety which people said were a barrier to them cutting back.

“Regularly drinking above the UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of 14 units a week can increase your risk of a range of health conditions including seven types of cancer so don’t be put off if you’ve failed to stick to your plans. It’s never too late to make a change and think about cutting back, whether that’s factoring in more drink free days, swapping to low-alcohol or alcohol-free options or stopping completely.

“It’s easy to lose track of how quickly alcohol units add up and keeping a tally is a helpful way to lower the risk of alcohol affecting your health. Downloading the Drinkaware app is a first step for many in making a change to a healthier life.”

About the research:

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1117 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th November - 8th December 2021.  The survey was carried out online. Drinkaware commissioned YouGov to recontact participants from the 2021 Drinkaware Monitor Survey who stated they intended to cut down or increase their drinking once pandemic restrictions had been lifted. 

**UK wide sample of 9,137 adults aged 18 to 85, consisting of 5,934 in England, 1,245 in Wales, 1,349 in Scotland and 609 in Northern Ireland. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th June - 4th July 2021. The survey was carried out online. Data has been weighted to be representative of the UK adult (18-85) population according to age, gender, social grade and region. The sampling and weighting process is exactly consistent with that used in the 2017,2018, 2019 and 2020 Drinkaware Monitors.