Portman Group research shows Brits moderated their drinking while in national lockdown


Since lockdown measures were first imposed back in March, we at the Portman Group have been eager to see how extended isolation and social distancing has impacted the drinking habits of people across the UK. Looking to gain a developed insight, we worked with YouGov[i]  and commissioned our first poll to look at a baseline for weekly drinking and the changes that followed during lockdown.

We seek to be transparent with the results of our research, so you can view the full study here. In summary, the results of this study, conducted in May 2020, showed:

  • Overall, the majority of Brits were drinking the same or less compared to before lockdown, with a large majority remaining within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ 14 units a week low risk drinking guidelines. Even among those drinking more, close to half remain within these guidelines. Since June, these numbers have only improved, as we will detail in an upcoming blog on our second survey.
  • Prior to lockdown, 75% of UK adults said they either did not drink or drank within the CMO’s guidelines of 14 units per week. This equates to 6 pints of 4% ABV beer or 6 glasses of 13% ABV wine a week.
  • When asked if their drinking had increased or decreased since lockdown, two thirds (65%) of Brits who drank alcohol before the lockdown said that they were drinking the same, less or had stopped drinking altogether.
  • A large majority of drinkers remained within the low risk guidelines, including 81% of those drinking less and 72% of those drinking thereabouts the same. Even among those who were drinking more, close to half (44%) remained within these guidelines.
  • When those who are drinking less were asked about how they are moderating their intake of alcohol, 18% said they were intentionally limiting their purchase of alcohol in shops and 10% are incorporating alcohol-free days into their week.

This research builds on a number of other initial surveys from YouGov, CGA, Alcohol Change UK, Drinkaware and the Institute for Employment Studies, which consistently show that there has not been a spike in alcohol consumption under lockdown. Taken together at the time, it appeared that around 4 in 5 Brits were drinking the same, less or stopped during lockdown, with around a third drinking less and 1 in 5 drinking more.

This appears to support evidence that the lockdown resulted in decreased alcohol sales in supermarkets. Despite media articles highlighting increased supermarket sales, retail sales were more than offset by a collapse in sales in pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. Tellingly , initial alcohol duty receipts published by HMRC, which reflect all sales, show a fall in receipts of 17%, immediately after lockdown was imposed, from £1.74bn in March-April 2019 to £1.44bn in March-April 2020.[ii]

For more stats on UK consumption rates view our fact sheet.


Whilst our results show that not all increases in drinking should be a cause for alarm, we must be mindful that there remains a minority who continue to drink at high risk levels and have actually increased their consumption.

Our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. There is a real risk this has been exacerbated by the pandemic cutting off social and professional support as well as further economic pressures. Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and its effects should not be downplayed.

People drinking at hazardous levels need professional support to overcome what are often multi-faceted challenges. We would encourage all those concerned about their drinking, or about the drinking of someone around them, to seek help from a health professional or visit for free support and practical advice.


The hospitality industry prepared diligently for the reopening of the sector, with pubs asking customers to adhere to new social distancing measures such as using hand sanitiser on arrival and ordering via app systems.

We were cautiously optimistic that moderate drinking patterns would continue. Polling from the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking suggested that half (50%) of Brits intended to maintain their new drinking habits, with 35% expecting to return to pre-lockdown habits.[iii] We have since conducted further research with YouGov on the reopening of the pubs which is evidenced that this was largely the case. We will look to explore these issues further in a future blog post.

Our first survey with YouGov on lockdown drinking habits reinforces the pattern of evidence from other research suggesting that the UK is, and largely continues to be, a nation of responsible drinkers.


[i] YouGov surveyed 2,070 adults from across the UK online between 22 May and 26 May 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.

[ii] HMRC – Alcohol Bulletin, May 2020

[iii] IARD June 2020