One in three adults drank more alcohol during first lockdown

  Wine glass and bottle  Credit: congerdesign

COVID-19 and lockdown measures drove some individuals more than others to use alcohol to cope with stress, a new study has revealed. While overall alcohol consumption appeared to fall, a study published in BMJ Open found that more than one in three adults (36%) increased their consumption during the first lockdown.

In early March, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and many countries put in place drastic safety measures to control the spread of the virus, including an extended lockdown period.

In the UK, the first nationwide lockdown started on 23 March 2020 and lasted until 1 June, when restrictions began to be eased. Since then more localised lockdowns have been implemented where necessary.

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has explored whether the stress of the pandemic and lockdown measures affected people’s alcohol consumption. Between 14 and 28 May 2020, 1,346 people around the world completed an online survey about their drinking habits before and during lockdown. The researchers used their responses to compare the amount of alcohol consumed during lockdown against that in November 2019, as well as their drinking severity (occurrences of problem drinking such as drinking to the point of memory loss or neglecting personal responsibilities due to drinking). They also assessed mental health factors such as depression and anxiety.

The survey revealed that while the units of alcohol consumed per week decreased during lockdown – down from a mean average of 8.32 units in November to 8.03 during lockdown – a substantial percentage of individuals (36%) increased their drinking during lockdown. In the UK, the units of alcohol consumed per week increased from 10.94 to 11.25 units.

Samantha N Sallie, the study’s first author and a PhD student at the Department of Psychiatry, said: “While in countries such as Canada and the USA people drank less during lockdown, in the UK there was a small increase in alcohol consumption.”

Older individuals tended to increase their alcohol consumption more than younger people during lockdown, from 10 to 11 units weekly. Age may play a particularly unique role in the context of COVID-19 due to the greater need for older people to have more stringent isolation, with potentially fewer support mechanisms, and hence a risk of greater isolation and loneliness, as well as concern about the impact of COVID-19 on their personal health.

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Image: Wine glass and bottle

Credit: congerdesign

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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