Over a quarter of people in the UK have been drinking less often in lockdown, Global Drug Survey finds

Tuesday, 09 June 2020

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An international team of researchers has released an interim report which includes data on the impacts of the pandemic on people’s drinking behaviours.

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) Special Edition on Covid-19 was developed as part of an effort to better understand the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives, with a specific focus on the use of alcohol and other drugs, mental health and relationships.

Oxford Brookes University researcher Dr Emma Davies is part of the international GDS group with responsibility for advising on and leading the alcohol section of the survey.

Over 40,000 people from around the world have taken part in the survey so far.

People were asked, compared to February, if the number of days they drank alcohol in a typical week had changed. Globally, 30.5% of respondents said they were drinking a little more often than before the pandemic, and 13.5% said they were drinking a lot more often.

People who had reduced the frequency of their drinking reported positive impacts on their physical and mental health. Given these benefits, we urgently need to support the 40% of respondents who said they would like to drink less, and this data will enable us to develop the right tools to do this.

Dr Emma Davies, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Oxford Brookes University

In the UK, 35.1% of respondents said they were drinking a little more often and 20.6% a lot more often. However, 27.7% of UK respondents were drinking less often than before, and even more of them (35.9%) reported a reduction in binge drinking (consuming more than five drinks in a single occasion).

Dr Emma Davies said: “We have seen a lot of media reports already about increased drinking, so it is also important to note that a large proportion of people have actually reduced their drinking during the pandemic.

“The main reasons that respondents gave for reducing their drinking were because they had less contact with people and settings where they usually drank alcohol, and they didn't like to drink at home. 37% of UK respondents said they did not feel like drinking during a pandemic and 30% of UK respondents also said they were using this time to get more healthy.

“People who had reduced the frequency of their drinking reported positive impacts on their physical and mental health. Given these benefits, we urgently need to support the 40% of respondents who said they would like to drink less, and this data will enable us to develop the right tools to do this."

In addition, 46.8% of UK respondents also said they had started drinking earlier in the day, compared to 31.4% on average in the global sample.

The main reasons for drinking more were that people had more time to drink and were feeling more bored. Increases due to depression, worry and loneliness were also noted, as were drinking more with a partner.

One third of people in the study who increased their alcohol use reported negative consequences on their physical health and one fifth said that their mental health, work/study performance, and/or pleasure was negatively impacted.

“We hope that more people will take the survey in the coming weeks so that we can understand a broader picture of what is happening,” added Dr Davies.

“When we finish data collection we will be able to look at whether increases or decreases in drinking during the pandemic are impacting different groups in different ways.”

The research team is led by Professor Adam Winstock, Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist and academic researcher.

The full report can be accessed via the Global Drug Survey website.

The survey is open until 20th June 2020 and people can take part using this link. A full report on all of the findings will be released in July.