Lockdown and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could have a lasting impact on drinking levels – and therefore devastating health consequences – for many people if action is not taken, warns charity Drinkaware.
New research from independent alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, reveals that around two in five (38%) of people on furlough and a third (33%) of parents with at least one child under 18 are drinking more alcohol since the start of lockdown.
This is significantly higher than the national average where, overall, more than a fifth (22%) of people in the UK – around 11.7 million – are drinking more since the lockdown began.
The study, conducted by Opinium on behalf of Drinkaware, surveyed more than 2,000 people in the UK and is the latest in the charity’s research series into drinking behaviours. It also highlights that around three in ten young adults aged 18 to 34 (29%) are drinking at higher levels than when lockdown began.
One of the top three reasons young adults give for drinking more is that they are feeling anxious. Among UK adults who drink younger generations are also more likely than the national average to be drinking alone when they wouldn’t usually.
Among UK adults who drink, parents with at least one child under 18 are more likely than the national average to have had their first alcoholic drink earlier in the day, as well as drinking to cope with the day. Furloughed workers are more likely than the national average to be drinking on more days than usual and say they find it difficult to stop at just one drink.
Drinkaware is urging people to look out for drinking triggers to help them cut back and is calling on government to raise alcohol consumption higher up its harm reduction agenda.
Drinkaware Chief Executive Elaine Hindal said: “At a time when adopting a healthy lifestyle has never been more important, our latest research clearly shows certain groups of people are displaying worrying new drinking patterns during this very challenging time.
“We’re concerned that, for a significant number of people, lockdown levels of drinking may become ingrained and hard to break. Drinking more, whether out of boredom or anxiety, can lead to devastating health consequences, both mental and physical, as well as an increased tolerance for alcohol, which can lead to alcohol dependence.”
The data reveals that those who are drinking more are also more likely than the national average to display worrying drinking habits – drinking on more days than usual, having the first alcoholic drink earlier in the day, drinking alone, finding it difficult to stop at one drink or drinking to cope with the day – which could suggest possible alcohol dependence and have long-term implications for health.
Elaine Hindal added: “It is crucial that alcohol is considered as a factor when the government is looking at tackling obesity. Alcohol consumption should also be looked at as a critical factor within mental health strategies, including for those furloughed by their employers and younger adults who may feel uncertain about the future, and for parents who are juggling work and family life.
“The important thing to remember is that, if you or someone you care about is drinking more than usual at the moment, it’s not too late to cut down or find support to help you. Understanding what triggers you to drink more can help you avoid reaching for alcohol. Sticking to the low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week – that’s about six glasses of wine or six pints of beer – is a good place to start to help you keep track.”
Drinkaware has an online self-assessment that can help identify whether someone should be concerned about how much they drink.