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New research reveals NE drinking habits during lockdown


Bottles of beer

Posted 23/04/20

New research has found that more than one quarter of North East adults (26%) who drink alcohol are drinking more often since lockdown began on 23 March.

But more than one in three (37%) have reduced how often they drink or stopped drinking altogether.

The North East survey of 513 people from Balance is part of a representative survey of more than 2,000 people across the UK commissioned by charity Alcohol Change UK, which suggests that lockdown is changing the way that the UK drinks at both ends of the scale, with one in 20 (5%) of people in the North East who previously drank alcohol having stopped completely during the lockdown.

These figures suggest that over 450,000 adults in the North East are drinking more frequently since lockdown, while over 650,000 NE adults are drinking less often or have stopped drinking entirely. The same poll carried out UK-wide suggests that as many as 8.6 million people are drinking more often, and 14 million drinking less or have stopped completely.

More than four out of ten drinkers (or people who drank before the lockdown) in the North East appear to be taking active steps to try to manage drinking suggesting that people are conscious that lockdown might lead us to drink more frequently or heavily. In the North East:

That said, it is the people who were already drinking the least often who have cut down in the greatest number. Almost half (46%) of people in the North East who drank weekly or less have cut down or stopped drinking completely, compared to 25% of people who drank four to six times a week, and no daily drinkers.

Worryingly, 11% of daily drinkers (who are already more likely to be drinking above the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidelines of no more than 14 units a week) have further increased the amount they drink.

Sue Taylor, Strategic Partnerships Manager for Balance, said: “We have seen reports of people stockpiling alcohol and memes going around on social media joking about afternoon drinking, but this is the most extensive research yet into the impact this period of lockdown is having on our drinking nationally and in the North East.

“The worrying news is that more than one in four people in the North East are finding they are drinking more in lockdown than they were previously. Some people may be using alcohol as a coping mechanism - the problem is that this can lead to habits forming that are really bad for our health in the long-term and may also make us feel more tired, anxious and sluggish in the short term.

“An even greater concern is that it appears to be those people who were already drinking the most who are now drinking more, potentially putting their health at even greater risk of a range of alcohol related conditions.”

But she said: “The good news is that even more people in the North East than nationally are taking steps to manage their drinking.

“We all know it is an incredibly stressful time for everyone right now, and as we adapt to new ways of living and working, it’s more important than ever to look after both our physical and mental health.

“All of us want to come out of lockdown as mentally and physically healthy as we possibly can, and managing our drinking is an important part of that.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: "It is good news to see that many people are taking their health seriously during the coronavirus pandemic by reducing their alcohol consumption; a course of action which WHO strongly recommends.

“Cutting down on alcohol will not only improve our own health but it will help to protect the NHS long-term and so it is important that these healthy trends continue. That said, lockdown will be a difficult experience for many dependent drinkers, those in recovery or those whose alcohol consumption has risen sharply in the last few weeks. If you are concerned about your drinking or the alcohol consumption of someone you know, make sure you reach out for help."

The World Health Organisation has warned against people using alcohol as a coping mechanism and warned that at times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence.

Balance is encouraging people to stay within the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk drinking limits of no more than 14 units a week to protect both their physical and mental health. Fourteen units means around six pints of regular strength beer or lager, six standard glasses of wine or seven double measures of spirits. WATCH VIDEO.

Regularly drinking above the CMOs guidelines increases the risk of a whole range of conditions, including heart disease, stroke and seven types of cancer. Heavy drinking can also increase the risk of respiratory disease.

One in 14 (7%) people said that their own or someone else’s drinking had made the tension in their household worse since lockdown. Worryingly, households with children were more likely to report that drinking had increased tensions within their homes.

The North East sample contained 120 people who are known to have children aged 18 and under, living at home. 12% of the people with children under 18 living in their household reported that alcohol had increased tensions, while only 2% felt alcohol had lessened tensions.

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: "This research shows that alcohol is leading to increased tension in millions of households across the UK, which hints at the wider negative impact that alcohol can have. Successive Governments have had a blind spot on alcohol harm, but the reality is that it’s the cause of 1.3m hospital admissions and over 7,000 deaths each year. This harm is avoidable. Taking action on alcohol harm would reduce rates of domestic violence, child neglect, costs to the criminal justice system and – perhaps most significantly at the moment – would hugely benefit the NHS.”