Lockdown could reverse UK’s ten year drop in alcohol consumption

Fri 24 April, 2020
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An addiction expert from the University of Bedfordshire has warned about the escalation of alcohol consumption which is likely to occur in light of Covid-19.

Dr Sarah Wadd, Director of the Substance Misuse and Ageing Research Team (SMART) at the University’s Institute of Applied Social Research (IASR), believes the current lockdown could stall or reverse the decade-long fall in the UK’s alcohol intake, leading to an increase in drinking. Amongst other health issues, chronic heavy-drinking may mean people are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill if infected by coronavirus. 

Dr Sarah Wadd’s concerns have been published in a blog for Drink Wise Age Well – a National Lottery funded programme led by the charity We Are With You – supported by findings taken from a recent study about alcohol use in older adults across the UK, which she and her team conducted with almost 16,700 over-50s.

Concern about rising alcohol consumption

Discussing the points raised in her blog, she said: “Previous studies have shown a link between increased alcohol consumption during times of crisis and quarantine. Research into the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto found that being quarantined was associated with higher alcohol intake, whilst a survey during the global financial crisis of 2007/08 saw an increase in binge drinking culture.

“Our survey with Drink Wise Age Well showed that, in general, 44% of people drank alcohol at home to relax or take their mind off problems and just 3% drank when they were lonely or bored. However, when we focused on those with a higher risk level of drinking, 78% drank to relax or take their mind off problems and 42% drank when they were lonely or bored. This suggests drinking could increase during the Covid-19 pandemic because many at-risk people will find themselves forced to stay at home feeling vulnerable, worried and alone.”

Dr Sarah Wadd continued: “On the other hand, drinking to be sociable is another common reason for drinking among the over-50s, and so the Government’s advice to stay at home during the pandemic will mean that the inability to socialise may counterbalance the increase in drinking due to boredom or loneliness.”

Evaluated by the University of Bedfordshire’s SMART researchers and their academic partners, the Drink Wise Age Well programme aims to reduce alcohol harm in the over 50s through a number of activities and interventions, as well as providing virtual and telephone support.

Dr Sarah Wadd’s blog ‘How the Covid-19 pandemic may impact on alcohol use in the over 50s’ can be read in full here: https://drinkwiseagewell.org.uk/covid-19-over-50s/

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