Covid has changed everything from the way we work and live to the way we cough and wash our hands. It’s also had a big impact on the way we drink, according to new research to be published this week by an alcohol-industry-funded charity whose stated aim is to promote responsible drinking among Irish consumers.
The study on the way we are and the way we were from Drinkaware states that as a result of the pandemic “as a society we are not the same as we were, and the consumption of alcohol, in terms of motivation, volume and frequency, is not the same as it was”.
It explores the impact of Covid-19 on our behavior and attitudes towards alcohol in the first 12 months of the pandemic. While some of the changes seen by Drinkaware are positive, many others are not and paint a bleak picture of low mental well-being, people drinking to cope and increasing numbers of people weekly and binge drinking.
Research points to how our behaviors formed or changed in the initial lockdown in 2020 and how they morphed into established patterns of new rituals around alcohol. There’s more binge drinking, more regular binge drinking, and more preoccupation with our drinking.
Last year, 55% of Irish adults said they drank alcohol weekly, compared with 52% the year before and 44% in 2019.
According to the Behavior & Attitudes survey of 1,000 adults, another 49% said they had engaged in binge drinking in the last 30 days. The number last year was 46%, while in 2019 the study says it was 36%.
Meanwhile, 61% said they drank frequently for coping reasons, a marginal increase from last year but a substantial increase from 11% in the year before Covid.
Specific sectors fare worse, according to the report. Families with preschool children were more likely to report increased alcohol consumption in both the amount of alcohol consumed and the frequency of consumption in the last 12 months.
The percentage of men reporting binge drinking on a typical drinking day has increased from 27% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds reporting binge drinking on a typical day consumption has nearly doubled to 31% in 2021 from 16% at the time of the initial lockdown phase in 2020.
Low mental well-being peaked at 43% between 25 and 34 years old, as well as those who increased their consumption in the last 12 months. The 18-24-year-old cohort reported significant levels of stress/tension, with 66% telling researchers it had increased during the initial phase of lockdown in 2020.
A year after the first scare wave, 39% said there was no change in their stress/tension levels, with 37% reporting an increase in stress/tension in 2021 compared to 2020.
There are some upsides contained in the report, and the survey also points to an increase in numbers who said they would like to drink alcohol less often – 30% in 2021 versus 24% in 2020 – and an increase in those who said they had already made small changes. positive – 37% in 2021 versus 31% in 2020.
“The most common question is ‘how much are we drinking?’ But the critical question is ‘why do we drink’? Without this information, risky drinking cannot be approached sustainably,” says Drinkaware Chief Executive Sheena Horgan.
“This research paper provides a detailed history of the who, what, where, when and why of drinking in Ireland one year after the Covid-19 pandemic. It reveals what behaviors formed and/or changed in the initial block and what behaviors may have become our ‘new normal’ in terms of our attitudes and behaviors towards alcohol. ”
She believes that the “importance of insights captured from lived experiences cannot be underestimated”.
“Alcohol consumption cannot be viewed or analyzed in isolation, and it is the comprehensive approach this research work takes that allows us to define, encourage, support and enable positive behavior change with the public… forward.”
SHINE A LIGHT ON HOW COVID MADE OUR DRINK
In early 2020, the idea that time would be called out in every Irish pub – certainly one of our most famous exports and among our most cherished institutions at home – for over a year as we battled a mortal and invisible enemy, would have been as unthinkable as it would have been frightening.
But the closure of Irish pubs was just one of the ways our lives were altered by Covid-19. The impact it has had on our world is something that will likely be studied for years as people look at the pandemic to assess how it has shaped us.
We may not be able to gauge the full impact of the virus for years to come, but the study published by Drinkaware, at least partially, sheds light on how the pandemic has shaped one element of our lives – our drinking.
Before the report was published, Pricewatch took to social media armed with a question.
“Just over two years after the pandemic began, have you noticed any significant and lasting changes in how, where, when and why you consume alcohol?”
The question elicited two very different kinds of answers. The public and the private.
Nearly everyone who responded to the question on public channels was blissfully optimistic about the impact Covid has had on their consumption.
“Drinking less than I did last year and indeed the year before during the pandemic in terms of frequency and volume,” came a response. “I rarely visit a pub now and mostly drink with dinner only at home or in a restaurant (which is very rare).”
Another Twitter user said drinking “has always been a social thing”, so they “drank a lot less during the pandemic. I don’t know if this will last, but I’m still drinking less these days – I drove to a show last night instead of taking a cab for a beer or two.”
A third person said he was “definitely drinking less than he was during the pandemic. About a bottle of wine a week now and at home. Tolerance seems to have declined – maybe it’s just an age thing! Don’t be more inclined to go to the pub unless it’s for a specific gathering, like a birthday.”
Then there was the person who said that although they had “increased intake at the beginning of the pandemic [they had] decreased for the next two locks. It made me more aware of my habits and now I definitely consume less than when the pandemic started. And definitely less at home.”
The roller coaster ride was not uncommon. Here was someone else’s opinion: “First half of the first lockdown: ‘Oh, sure, it’s Tuesday, let’s have some wine.’ End of first block: “I don’t care if I drink again” Now: pretty much back to standard 2/3 cups once a week if even… and I’m happy.”
Someone said that they “now hardly drink alcohol” and said that “the variety of non-alcoholic drinks is great; I can’t deal with the hangover anymore.”
Another person said they didn’t like to go out late or after 9pm. “I prefer to leave early, come home early, I also don’t like crowds and queues anymore.”
But then there were others who sent private messages. Some of them were far from happy.
“I didn’t drink much before Covid….. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been drinking at least 4 cans of Guinness a day since March 2020…. I’m trying to get rid of it again and get to that place where I don’t want a drink every night…… please don’t share my name, but I would like to know if other people are in the same boat.”
There was. Moments later we received another private message.
“I haven’t had a drink in two years, except at weddings, etc.
“I had a huge spike in alcohol intake during lockdown,” another social media user said before wondering why. And then responding. “Maybe work from home? But I hope to get back out for a few beers on Saturday and stop drinking Guinness cans at home.”
A TWO-GOAL PANDEMIC
It’s been a pandemic in two halves when it comes to alcohol consumption, according to Eunan McKinney of Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), the advocacy group that has the stated aim of reducing the harm of alcohol in Ireland.
This time last year – after the first 12 months of the public health crisis – he was warning of another health crisis fueled by what he said was an “ocean of alcohol” pouring into Irish homes.
The alert came based on data published by the Revenue, which suggested that alcohol consumption was 10.06 liters per capita in 2020, a drop of 6% compared to the 10.78 liters consumed the previous year. In total, after that first year, net income from alcohol consumption for the year showed a decline of 2.4%, suggesting that public finances had little impact because of the pandemic experience.
“Covid has been a two-year experiment,” he says now. “In the first year there was a significant change in what we did and that was because of restrictions that closed pubs for 40 out of 52 weeks in 2020.”
He says that was when the “oceans of wine that flowed through our houses” appeared.
He points to data from Nielsen and Kantar that suggests that alcohol sales at points of sale in some outlets during the first year of the pandemic jumped a staggering 90%, while over the entire year it rose by 40%. .
“By any measure, this means that there was a huge amount of alcohol pouring into Irish homes, and what we were signaling was the fact that people who had temporary lifestyles were at risk of developing permanent habits.”
He says that over the course of the first year of the pandemic, the alcohol industry “held 94 percent of its business which, given that bars that account for a third of all alcohol sales in a normal year, were closed, it was a very good deal.” conquest. At this real Covid crisis point, we expected to see a big drop in sales and we didn’t.”
His concern was then – and remains now – the hundreds of thousands of children who live with parents who have a problem, to a greater or lesser degree, with alcohol, although he is somewhat optimistic about what lies ahead. And how Irish consumers coped with the second half of the pandemic.
“In 2021, restrictions still applied a little bit, but we can see – using CSO research – that people were starting to decrease the amounts they were consuming and recognizing some of the issues. They got the message,” he suggests. “We were saying that we have a real problem here and I think it has calmed down.
He also notes that throughout 2021 public health measures were implemented that also had an impact, including the way in which alcohol can be sold and displayed in stores, as well as the introduction of the Minimum Unit Price which resulted in drinks being sold very cheaply. . alcohol.
“All these measures taken in isolation were small, but I think they have had an impact and will continue to have an impact,” says McKinney.
“We have seen some recalibration and resettlement back to where we were in pre-Covid times, and I think there will be a steady decline in alcohol use because policy instruments will balance out and disappear. and that will lead to a modest decline in alcohol use.
“I predict that after all measures take effect, we could see a comfortable decline of 5-7% in 2022, but that will only happen after a long and hard battle lasting up to a decade.”