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The University of Sheffield has released a new report published on 16 February 2021 that shows the impact that the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic had on alcohol consumption across England and Scotland.

The report in question was released after a study was commissioned by the Department of Public Health Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government. The study was then conducted by the Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield. The primary focus of the study was to identify the changes in alcoholic consumption during the early stages of the pandemic in Scotland while making comparisons to England.

According to the report, the overall consumption of alcohol in both England and Scotland fell greatly during the first stages of the pandemic (March 2020 -June 2020) compared to the consumption of alcoholic beverages in 2019.

Has Lockdown Impacted Alcohol Consumption?

The first lockdown resulted in more people drinking from the comfort of their homes. However, the rise in the rate of consumption of alcohol at home did not offset the decrease in the total number of people who visited restaurants and pubs to consume alcohol.

The findings published in the report also show that there was a decrease in the total number of people who started consuming alcohol early in the day.

During the study period, the Alcohol Research Group from the University of Sheffield assessed the changes that occurred in the drinking behaviour of people, the average number of days that people who participated in the study consumed alcohol, the occasions when people consumed alcohol as well as the number of alcohol units consumed on a weekly basis as per data collected in weekly drinking diaries.

The report finds that alcohol consumption at home (also known as off-trade) was insufficient to cover the shortfall in the rate of alcoholic consumption in restaurants and pubs (also known as on-trade).

Dr Abigail Stevely, a research associate from the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield & Lead Author of the report, gave the following comments:

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures that were introduced to curb its spread have had a huge impact on the general health and well-being of many people.”

“When UK authorities introduced the first lockdown, it led to the closure of pubs and other on-trade venues which affected how UK residents can get access to alcoholic beverages.”

“The research that we recently carried out shows that there was a general fall in the consumption of alcohol across the UK. Though this led to an increase in the rate of off-trade drinking, the increase could not offset the shortfall in on-trade drinking.”

“Despite some concerns that were raised that the lockdown might lead to an increase in the number of people who started drinking during the day, the study indicated otherwise since there was an increase in the number of people who only consume alcohol in the evening. This shift can be attributed to the fact that the lockdown resulted in a change in routines and the lack of opportunities to socialize during the day.”

“Although the study shows that the overall consumption of alcohol fell, evidence from other studies indicate that heavy drinkers may have increased their rate of alcohol consumption during the lockdown period. It is therefore pertinent that there is continuous monitoring during the pandemic period so as to prevent the UK populace from contracting additional health issues in the future.”

Research into Alcohol Consumption

Professor John Holmes – Director of the Alcohol Research Group (SARG) at the University of Sheffield & Co-author of the report made the following comments:

“The findings published in this new report will help increase our understanding of how different groups across the UK changed their drinking patterns during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the study reveals there was a general fall in the rate of drinking, it also showed that some sub-groups of the population increased their rate of alcohol consumption. The sub-groups that increased their rate of drinking include students, households with a single adult, households with three or more adults.”

The study relied on weekly drinking diary data that was collected by Kantar, a market research company in the UK.