New surveys show Brits drinking moderately under lockdown, as majority continue to drink under CMO guidelines

In the first survey to measure how much UK consumers are actually drinking during the lockdown, the Portman Group – the UK alcohol regulator and social responsibility body – finds that the majority of Brits are 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.

These findings are echoed in a separate survey for the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking – the global body focused on reducing harmful drinking – which also shows that half of Brits expect to maintain their new reduced drinking habits, and that socialising in pubs, bars and restaurants only ranks behind socialising with friends and family in terms of the things Brits miss about pre-lockdown life.

These new surveys show that, despite concerns fuelled by rising retail sales and continuing warm weather, British drinkers have taken a sensible approach to their drinking during lockdown.

A YouGov survey (2070 UK adults – 22-26 May) conducted for the Portman Group found:

  • 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.
  • Since lockdown on 23 March, two thirds of Brits who drank alcohol before the lockdown (65% of UK drinkers) say they are drinking the same, less or stopped drinking altogether (38%, 22% and 5% respectively).
  • Of the 35% of drinkers who say that they are drinking more, 28% say a little more and 7% say a lot more.
  • However, the majority of drinkers remain within 14 units: 81% of those drinking less and 72% of those drinking thereabouts the same are within the guidelines.
  • Of those drinking more, 44% are drinking within the CMO guidelines, whilst a further 22% are drinking just over the guidelines up to 21 units a week. A further 13% are consuming 22 – 28 units; 8% consuming 29 – 35 units; 6% consuming 36 – 49 units; and a final 4% consuming at a harmful or high risk level of more than 50 units.
  • Those respondents who increased their drinking and are above 14 units a week tend to be male, older drinkers, and those who are unemployed or retired.
  • When those who are drinking less are asked about how they are moderating their intake of alcohol, 18% say they are intentionally limiting their purchase of alcohol in shops and 10% are incorporating alcohol-free days into their week.
  • Participants also cited the closure of pubs and bars and subsequent lack of socialising as another key reason for drinking less.

A separate YouGov survey for the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking conducted a week earlier (2140 UK adults, 13-14 May), as part of a wider survey of lockdown drinking habits across nine countries, also found that:

  • Overwhelmingly, 88% of Brits who have been drinking lockdown during this period say they believe their drinking during lockdown has not caused problems in their lives, with 5% saying it has caused fewer problems and 4% saying it has caused more problems.
  • Furthermore, 50% of Brits who drink alcohol expect to maintain their new drinking habits, whilst 35% expect to return to pre-lockdown habits.
  • When asked what they missed pre-lockdown, 63% of Brits cited missing socialising in, bars and restaurants, second only to being able to physically meet up with family, and ahead of being able to travel abroad or around the UK (56%) and being able to show displays of physical affection such as hugging or shaking hands (54%).

This research builds on a number of surveys since March 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.

Commenting on the studies, Portman Group Chief Executive John Timothy said:

“These surveys are further proof that fears of Brits binge drinking through lockdown are unfounded, with the majority of UK drinkers continuing to remain within the Government’s low risk guidelines, even those drinking a little bit more than previously.

“However, we must be mindful that there remains a minority who continue to drink at hazardous levels and have actually increased their consumption, and we join with other organisatons in calling for those struggling to be given the professional support they need.

“Like so many others in the UK, I look forward to returning to our pubs and restaurants in the coming months but would also urge people to make sure they continue to drink responsibly and respect the social distancing measures in place in order to protect themselves and those around them.”

International Alliance for Responsible Drinking President, Henry Ashworth said:

“Despite reports of people rushing to stock up on alcohol in supermarkets, pictures of empty shelves, and early increases in off-premise alcohol sales, today’s polling indicates that the vast majority of people in these nine countries consumed the same or less alcohol during shutdowns.

“It is also encouraging that many intend to maintain these moderate habits as restaurants and bars, which have been sorely missed as a vital part of many people’s social wellbeing, begin to open.

“Some people are clearly struggling with their alcohol consumption during shutdowns and it is important that these individuals seek support from their doctor or specialist organizations that offer the chance to talk about their drinking. Having consulted with a doctor, for some people, the better choice may be not to drink at all during this difficult time.”

The Portman Group and IARD encourages all those concerned about their drinking, or about the drinking of someone around them, should seek help from a health professional or visit for free support and practical advice to help them cut back.

Update: A further Portman Group research report into the results can be found here, whilst raw survey data can be accessed here.


Notes to editors:

  1. John Timothy is available for broadcast interviews upon request.
  2. The Portman Group is the alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body. It has over 130 Code signatories from producers, retailers and membership bodies.
  3. The Portman Group is funded by twelve member companies: Asahi UK Ltd; Aston Manor Cider; Bacardi; Brown-Forman; Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I; Carlsberg UK; Diageo GB; Heineken UK; Mast-Jäegermeister UK; Pernod Ricard UK, SHS Drinks and Thatchers’.
  4. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.
  5. Portman Group poll: Total sample size was 2070 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 26th May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
  6. IARD poll: Total sample size was 2140 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 14th May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).