First lockdown ’caused polarisation of drinking habits’

The first lockdown led to a “polarisation of drinking habits” in Britain which is likely to be “exacerbated” by a more difficult winter shutdown, a charity boss has said.

A study by the Drinkaware charity suggested 26% of people in the UK increased their consumption between March and June, while one in 10 reported drinking more throughout the entire lockdown period.

But 27% of adults also said they consumed less alcohol in early lockdown, with the figure increasing to 29% in July and August.

Those who consumed fewer units cited a lack of social occasions as the main reason, while others tried to improve their physical health.

The alcohol education charity’s chief executive, Elaine Hindal, said the primary reasons for people drinking more were job insecurity, poor mental health, a lack of daily structure and more free time.

The increase was “mainly driven” by women and adults over 55.

Ms Hindal said she expects more people to suffer with alcohol abuse in the second lockdown because of darker days and colder temperatures.

She said: “We are concerned more this time because of the winter. I’m worrying that we are likely to see people going back to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“We are not questioning the reason for a lockdown, but it’s just recognising that people’s mental health and pressure people are facing haven’t gone, and will only be exacerbated by a second lockdown.”

She added: “People are drinking more because they are uncertain about their work or job, but that increases massively for people who are self-employed, so it’s really important that these people are given help and support from the Government.”

Alcohol stock
Alcohol stock

The Drinkaware study, which was based on a YouGov survey of 9,046 UK adults aged 18 to 85 between August and September, warned there could be an increase in alcohol-related health problems.

The charity has called on the Government to prioritise the impact of alcohol harm and said the issue should be considered as a factor within mental health strategies.

It also found that women were more likely to have had more alcohol than normal compared to men during the early stages of lockdown, with 27% reporting an increase, as opposed to 25% of men.

Ms Hindal said it is “unclear” why the increase is slightly more marked among women, but that it is “very consistent with wine sales”, and women are generally better at accessing help than men.

Some 58% of people surveyed found their drinking behaviours did not change during lockdown.

Drinkaware, which is funded by donations from UK alcohol producers, retailers and supermarkets, recommends a weekly alcohol limit of 14 units – the equivalent of six glasses of wine or six pints of beer.