Drinking habits throughout the pandemic - Part IV
This is our fourth survey tracking how drinking habits have changed since the pandemic (and associated restrictions) began in 2020. This survey focused on how drinking habits have changed, looked at changes in mental health and other health behaviours, and whether respondents felt these would get better or worse as restrictions ease.
Among the 4,000 UK adults surveyed (drinkers and non-drinkers), one-fifth (20%) reported drinking more alcohol than usual since March 2020, and a similar proportion (22%) reported drinking less than usual. Just under four-in-ten (37%) UK adults reported no change to their drinking habits.
Among those who reported drinking more than usual since the pandemic, several groups stood out as being more likely to do so compared to the UK average (20%):
- Those currently drinking at increasing (between 15 and 34 units a week for women, 15 and 49 for men) or higher risk levels (more than 35 units a week for women and more than 50 units for men), with 45% and 66% reporting drinking more than usual.
- Furloughed workers and those either made redundant or in the process of redundancy (39% and 49% respectively).
- Those experiencing negative impacts to their mental health (31%) and experiencing work-related stress (34%).
- Parents of at least one child under the age of 18 (33%).
The most common changes reported were drinking 'more days a week than usual' (15%), 'drinking more alcohol in a single session' (9%), 'having a drink earlier in the day' (9%), and 'drinking alone when I wouldn’t usually' (8%).
Change in drinking habits throughout the pandemic among UK adults who drink alcohol
Our April 2021 survey continued the pattern we have observed throughout the pandemic—a polarisation of change in drinking habits, with similar proportions of drinkers reporting ‘drinking more than they usually would’ and ‘less than they usually would’, with around half of drinkers reporting no change in habits.
Reported change in drinking habits since March 2020
UK adults who drink alcohol
Affect on mental and physical health
Our 2020 Monitor and December pulse survey demonstrated the impact the pandemic was having on the nation’s mental and physical health. This has continued into 2021, despite a strong vaccination programme in the UK and a roadmap out of the restrictions.
Between one-fifth and one-third of UK adults reported experiencing negative impacts to their mental and physical health—similar to the findings reported in our December pulse survey.
UK adults drinking at increasing or higher risk levels were more likely to report negative impacts on their mental health (and all other aspects of health) due to the pandemic than adults drinking at low risk levels (less than 14 units per week).
Negatively affected since the coronavirus pandemic
(% affected to a moderate, large, or very large extent)
When asked whether the above would get better or worse as the restrictions ease, the vast majority of UK adults expected either no change (42-59%) or an improvement (18-38%). However, for a minority (between 13-16%), they expected further negative impacts.
Summary and Reflections
Over a year after our initial research into lockdown drinking behaviours, our data demonstrate that changes in drinking habits that occurred at the beginning of the pandemic have remained broadly consistent throughout, with similar proportions drinking either more or less than they usually would have.
In addition, it is the same groups that have emerged as being more likely to have increased their alcohol consumption--higher risk drinkers, parents of young children, those facing redundancy or furlough, and those experiencing negative impacts to their mental health. The consistency of this finding would suggest such habits may now be a new normal for some drinkers and targeted support is required.
This survey was conducted between April 27-30th, 2021. At the time of the survey, hospitality venues were allowed to serve people outdoors, without the need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks.
Similar to our earlier pulse surveys, we asked people whether they were drinking the same, more, or less than usual since lockdown began. We also asked how much people were drinking, any changes in specific drinking behaviours, and how the pandemic has affected mental health, work-related stress, loneliness, as well as other health behaviours (eating habits, weight, drinking habits). We also asked respondents whether they felt each of these would get better or worse as the pandemic restrictions ease in future. Finally, we asked respondents whether they were taking any steps to moderate their alcohol consumption.
Opinium conducted research on behalf of Drinkaware, surveying 4,000 nationally representative UK adults aged 18 and over between the 27–30th April 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).