Latest results from Portman Group and UCL studies highlight continuing UK moderate majority throughout lockdowns and beyond
You may have read last week initial reports that University College London’s ongoing COVID-19 study had found that half of adults reported that they were drinking more now compared to a year ago.
Whilst the headlines were certainly startling, UCL have since confirmed that the initial press release was incorrect due to a technical error and has been retracted and updated.
In actual fact, the UCL survey[i] of over 70,000 UK adults across the UK found that 83% of adults reported either no change (65.5%) or a reduction (17.5%) in their alcohol consumption now compared to March/April 2020. Instead of half, only around 17% of adults reported they had been drinking more.
These results fit with the results of our most recent poll with YouGov, where 73% of UK drinkers said that they were either drinking the same or less since the beginning of the pandemic compared to previous years. In our poll close to a third (32%) of UK drinkers said they had reduced their alcohol consumption, whilst just over a quarter (26.3%) said they were drinking more[ii].
Adding the latest data to our tracking of 33 publicly available polls from the start of the pandemic, commissioned by groups such as the Portman Group, Public Health England, Drinkaware and Alcohol Change UK, shows that over three quarters (77%) of UK adults are drinking the same or less over the past year.
Taken together around half (51%) of adults report no change to their alcohol consumption, whilst over a quarter (26%) report drinking less and under a quarter (23%) report drinking more.
Increases in consumption should also be placed in context, with the Portman Group’s latest and previous polls suggesting that many who are drinking more still remain within the Chief Medical Officer lower-risk guidelines. The latest UCL research also provides some encouraging news that 40.1% of UK adults drinking over the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of 14 units per week had decreased their drinking.
However, our latest findings also echo previous concerns that increases over the past year have been fuelled by those already drinking at heavier and more harmful rates[iii]. The reasons for this increase are likely multifaceted and potentially exacerbated by continued lockdown restrictions cutting off social and professional support or deterring people from seeking help in the first instance.
As we emerge from lockdown our shared efforts need to focus on tackling hazardous drinking and helping those struggling with alcohol dependence or those on the brink of dependence. 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 Drinkaware.co.uk for free support and practical advice.
Yet it is also useful to take a step back and see that the moderate majority of UK population, on the whole, drank the same or have cut down their alcohol consumption over the past year, dispelling the myth that Britain turned to the bottle during the pandemic.