Drinkaware Monitor 2021

Every year Drinkaware commissions a survey to track and understand the nation’s drinking. In 2021, we looked at the nation's drinking more than one year into the coronavirus pandemic.

Background

Building on findings from our 2020 Drinkaware Monitor, our 2021 Monitor aimed to further understand the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s drinking—more than one year on from the onset of societal restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Drinkaware wanted to understand whether drinking habits were returning to pre-pandemic levels or whether worrying trends identified throughout 2020 had continued despite the easing of restrictions.

 

What did we find in 2020?

Our 2020 Monitor (and other surveys we conducted in 2020), identified distinct changes in the nation’s drinking habits since the pandemic.

Key findings:
  • There was a polarisation in drinking habits, with similar proportions of UK drinkers reporting drinking more than they would usually prior to the pandemic and less than they would usually.
  • Population level data (e.g., on alcohol units consumed or alcohol risk classification based on the AUDIT-C) remained largely unchanged from previous years.
  • However, population level statistics masked significant variation within groups. We did not see small increases in alcohol consumption across the board. Rather, larger increases among a smaller proportion of high-risk drinkers (i.e., those considered to be most at risk of alcohol-related harm).
  • This has significant health and resource implications. Indeed, alcohol-specific deaths increased by almost 20% in England and Wales in 2020 compared to the previous year[1]—and increased by 17% in Scotland.[2]

In addition to high-risk drinkers, Drinkaware identified three other groups who reported drinking more than usual during the pandemic: individuals facing redundancy, individuals whose mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and parents of children under 18.

A common thread among those who reported drinking more than usual was mentioning coping motivations for drinking alcohol (such as ‘to cheer up when in a bad mood’, ‘to forget about problems’ and ‘to help when feeling depressed or nervous’). 

New for 2021: Inclusion of qualitative research

For the first time, Drinkaware commissioned qualitative research to sit alongside the survey, which gathered stories of individuals from four groups that emerged out of our 2020 research as drinking more than they usually would have before the pandemic: high-risk drinkers, individuals facing redundancy, individuals whose mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and parents of children under 18.

The Monitor 2021 report presents findings from both the survey and qualitative research.

For more information on research objectives, survey questions and methodology, see the tabs at the bottom of this page. Alternatively, download our technical report.

Key Findings

  • The polarisation between high risk and low risk drinkers observed throughout 2020 continues.
  • Whilst the number of low-risk drinkers and adults who don't drink is increasing, the level of high-risk drinkers remains largely unchanged.
  • The pandemic created or increased certain drinking behaviours, such as drinking alone at home or in public places, and there are indications that these situations were deemed more socially acceptable during the pandemic.
  • High risk drinkers are the most likely to report drinking more, more often and in different situations than usual compared to before the pandemic.
  • Over one-third (36%) of high risk drinkers report that they intend to cut down on drinking when pandemic restrictions ease, although 42% indicated the same in 2020.
  • Drinkers reported that the pandemic, and particularly times of increased restrictions/lockdowns, caused periods of high stress, anxiety, isolation, and boredom, and that some turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • While parents with children aged 18 and under at home were more likely to report drinking more than they usually would have during the first lockdown (March-June 2020), drinking levels in the last 30 days (May/June 2021) has dropped and is similar to those without children at home.
  • Adults in the most deprived areas are more likely to not drink alcohol and were more likely to report drinking less during the first lockdown (March-June 2020) than their usual amounts. Yet, drinkers in most deprived areas are more likely to be classified as high-risk drinkers (based on the full AUDIT screening tool) than those in the least deprived areas.

View the report below or download it.

Research Information

Interested researchers who wish to conduct independent analysis of our Monitor data are welcome to contact the research team at research@drinkaware.co.uk.  

 

Objectives

The main objectives of the survey research were to:
  • Provide an overview of drinking behaviour in the UK, measuring frequency and quantity of drinking among UK adults.
  • Investigate further the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on drinking behaviour. The 2020 survey specifically examined how COVID-19 affected alcohol consumption and the 2021 survey provided an opportunity for greater exploration of this.
  • Explore awareness and consumption of alcohol-free and low-alcohol drinks.
  • Assess the impact of the pandemic on mental health and how this relates to alcohol consumption.
The main objective of the qualitative research was to:
  • Gather stories from individuals in our four groups of interest and further understand how the pandemic has affected their drinking and why.

Survey questions

In addition to questions capturing the nation’s drinking behaviour, the survey included questions on:
  • The impact of the pandemic on drinking levels and behaviours
  • Changes in attitudes to drinking
  • Changes in working situation or status
  • Attitudes and use of alcohol-free and low alcohol products
  • The impact on mental health and wellbeing

Note: Due to the volume of data, we intend to publish thematic reports throughout 2021-22 on topics not covered in the main 2021 Monitor report. When published, you can find these reports in our Research and Evaluation section.

Method

Survey Research

Drinkaware commissioned YouGov to undertake the research on our behalf.  YouGov interviewed a UK representative 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. The devolved nations were proportionally over-sampled, relative to their population size, to allow for more robust analysis at nation level.

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.

For further information on methodology, and to view the questionnaire, please refer to the technical report.

Qualitative Research

Drinkaware commissioned PS Research to conduct qualitative research on individuals from the four groups of interest that emerged throughout our research conducted in 2020.

PS Research conducted an online community lasting seven days from 19th to 25th July 2021.

Participants were asked to complete a series of tasks including:
  • A daily alcohol diary.
  • A card sort activity around socially acceptable situations in which to drink alcohol.
  • A graph and video activity to ‘map your mood and your drinking across the pandemic’.
  • A card sort activity around motivations to drink alcohol.

A total of 30 participants took part in the online community [14 males, 16 females].

All participants had to be aged 18 or over, score a minimum of five or more on AUDIT-C and agree that their alcohol consumption had increased in either amount or frequency during the pandemic (either over the entire course of the pandemic or at specific points such as during lockdowns).

For more information, see the Appendix in the Monitor 2021 report.

Last Reviewed: 4th October 2021

Next Review due: 4th October 2025