Drinkaware Monitor 2020: Drinking and the coronavirus pandemic

Every year Drinkaware commissions a survey to track and understand the nation’s drinking. This year we wanted to understand the impact the pandemic has had on the nation's drinking.

In a year unlike any other, Drinkaware wanted to understand the impact the pandemic has had on the nation’s drinking, and particularly, whether any changes in work caused by the pandemic had impacted on drinking.

Impact of the pandemic on drinking

The findings from this survey are alarming. They demonstrate the impact the pandemic has had on many of our lives, and particularly the disruption experienced by those working during this time. Many drinkers turned to alcohol to fill newly free time, relieve worry or uncertainty, or just to alleviate boredom.

Job uncertainty

  • Those who had been made redundant or were in consultancy were more likely to have drunk more than normal throughout lockdown than those who are not affected (17% compared with 10%).  
  • Employees who were concerned about their job security were more likely to have drunk more throughout lockdown than those who were not concerned (15% compared with 11%). 

Mental health 

  • Those who felt the pandemic had a large or moderate negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing were more likely than those who  experienced a small or no impact to have drunk more than normal throughout lockdown (14% compared with 8%).  

Eating and smoking habits 

  • Those who ate less healthily were more likely to have drunk more than normal throughout lockdown (16%) and almost one in six (16%) of those who had gained weight drank more than normal throughout lockdown.  
  • Among those drinkers who smoked, more than one in five (21%) of those who smoked more compared to normally, also drank more alcohol throughout lockdown. 

Working from home 

  • 14% percent of those working from home during lockdown, when they hadn’t been previously, drank more alcohol throughout lockdown, compared with 11% of those who didn’t change their work location. 

Demographics

Of particular concern, drinkers who already drank at higher levels were more likely to have increased their drinking as lockdown struck, and also to continue drinking at higher levels through the pandemic. 

 

Social groups

Higher risk drinkers are more likely  to be male, from ABC1 social groups and aged 45-54 than other drinkers. 

Drinking more during lockdown

In the early stages of the pandemic (late March to June), when lockdown restrictions were at their height, 26% of all drinkers report drinking more than normal. This falls to 15% as restrictions eased.  11% of drinkers report drinking at higher than normal levels throughout the pandemic. This implies that some drinkers were able to moderate their drinking habits as the pandemic progressed, but others are continuing to drink at increased levels and could be forming habits that will be harmful in the long term.

This is particularly true for drinkers who already drink at ‘higher risk’ levels (as defined by AUDIT-C). In the earlier part of lockdown, 46% drank more than normal, which fell to 31% in the later parts. 24% of higher risk drinkers drank more than normal throughout the pandemic.

Quantity of alcohol consumed

Amount drank in lockdown compared to normal

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Reasons for drinking more

Reasons for drinking more during the pandemic included having more time available, and less structure to the days/weeks.

Those whose work situation has been disrupted by the pandemic were more likely to have drunk more through the pandemic, including those who had been made redundant or in the consultancy process (17% compared with 10% of those not affected by redundancy).

We also found that drinking during the pandemic restrictions was also related to other unhealthy behaviours, including increased smoking (if they were also smokers) and eating less healthily.

Drinking more

Reasons for drinking more than normal during lockdown

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Future intentions and moderating techniques

21% of drinkers intend to cut down their drinking as lockdown restrictions ease.

Among respondents who are planning to cut down on their alcohol consumption, there is a sense that drinking habits in lockdown are situational and temporary. In particular, those who had changes to circumstances and also increased their consumption during lockdown more likely to intend to cut down as restrictions ease

Drinking intentions

Drinking intentions as lockdown restrictions ease

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Research information

We intend to publish the data from this survey later in 2020. Until then, interested researchers who wish to conduct independent analysis are welcome to contact the research team on research@drinkaware.co.uk.

Survey questions

The survey included questions on:

  • The impact of the pandemic on drinking levels
  • Personal experiences of coronavirus
  • Changes in attitudes to drinking
  • Changes in working situation or status
  • The impact on mental health and wellbeing

Objectives

The main objectives of this research were to:

  • Provide an overview of adults’ drinking behaviour in the UK, including how frequently and how much they are drinking.
  • Explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on drinking behaviour and other health behaviours, such as diet and smoking.
  • Investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on mental health and wellbeing, and how any impacts may interact with drinking behaviour.
  • Explore how the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has affected work situations and patterns, and in turn, how this may interact with drinking behaviour.

Method

Drinkaware commissioned YouGov to undertake the research on our behalf.  They interviewed a representative sample of 9,046 UK adults aged 18 to 85 online, between 27 August and 15 September 2020. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK adult population (aged 18 to 85) according to gender, age, social grade, and region.

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