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Reducing harm caused by alcohol

News

Scots report changing drinking patterns during coronavirus lockdown

Polling suggests more than a million adults in Scotland have reduced how often they drink or stopped drinking altogether, while the same proportion are drinking more frequently.

New figures from polling commissioned by health charities Alcohol Focus Scotland and Alcohol Change UK suggest that a majority of Scots are changing their drinking habits during lockdown.

The figures suggest that more than a million adults (29%) in Scotland are drinking more than they were before lockdown measures were introduced.  However, the same proportion have reported a reduction in how often they are drinking or have stopped drinking altogether.

Many of those who have cut down their drinking during lockdown have said that this has had a positive impact with over a quarter (28%) reporting improvements to their mental health, and around a third (35%) saying their physical health has been better since cutting down. A quarter said their reduced drinking has made them more productive (26%), and around a third reported their energy levels and sleep quality have improved (32% and 34% respectively).

Conversely, one in five of those who have been drinking more in the last few weeks reported the negative impact that this is having on their lives. Two-fifths (42%) of people found that drinking more has led to reduced quality of sleep and energy levels, and 29% and 23% said that it has made their mental and physical health worse, respectively.

While it is encouraging to see people recognising the benefits of not drinking and taking steps to manage this, it is people who normally drink at low levels who are limiting their intake. Half of those who drank once a month or less before the lockdown have cut down or stopped drinking completely, compared to only 19% of those drinking four or more times a week.

Worryingly, 29% of people who drank four or more times a week before lockdown reported drinking more.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “We’re dealing with unprecedented levels of change and we’re all trying our best to adjust to the new circumstances we find ourselves in. It is understandable that we may be feeling more stressed and worried than usual.

“Many people drink alcohol to relax, forget their problems and combat feelings of stress, but as many people are seeing, it’s not always the best coping mechanism. As well as affecting our sleep, drinking alcohol can make more difficult to manage our negative thoughts and feelings and increase our levels of anxiety. 

“Over the longer term, regularly drinking over 14 units a week can cause more serious health problems, increasing our risk of cancer, stroke and liver disease.

“It’s positive to see many people taking active steps to manage their drinking such as having alcohol-free days, not buying a lot of alcohol at one time or stopping completely.  But it’s those who are greatest risk who are finding it harder to cut down.

“If you are drinking at home, it’s a good idea to try and keep track of how much you’re having, stay within the low-risk limits of 14 units a week and try to make sure you have alcohol-free days. 

“And, if you need support, there is lots available on-line and by phone, including from We are with you and Alcoholics Anonymous, who are running virtual support groups.”

Dr Gregor Smith, Interim Chief Medical Officer, highlighted in his briefing on Tuesday 21st April, that alcohol can reduce the immune system’s ability to fight off infectious diseases and have an impact on the health of your heart and lungs. He added that “choosing to cut back on how much you drink will reduce of complications linked to coronavirus.”

The Research

Total sample size for Scotland was 576 adults (18+), of whom 83% drank alcohol before the lockdown began. The survey was carried out online by Opinium, between 8 and 14 April 2020, two weeks after the UK and Scottish governments introduced more stringent social distancing measures to tackle the COVID-19 crisis (23 March 2020).

The adult drinking population of Scotland was calculated to be 3,703,813.  Estimates of the adult population were taken from National Records of Scotland (2019). Mid-Year Population Estimates, Mid-2018, and an estimate of the proportion of the Scottish population that drink alcohol (84%) was obtained from the Scottish Health Survey 2018 Edition.