A survey of more than 11,000 people across nine countries has found:
During lockdowns, the vast majority of drinkers (84%) are maintaining their previous levels of drinking or consuming less alcohol, a survey of more than 11,000 people across nine countries has found.
When the coronavirus shutdowns began, photographs of empty alcohol shelves in supermarkets around the world led to fears that people would drink more when they were confined to their homes and buying alcohol at a lower cost than they would normally pay in restaurants and bars.
Now a YouGov survey for the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) of 11,678 adults in Australia, South Africa, Mexico, France, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, and New Zealand has revealed that most people have consumed the same or less during shutdowns.
Almost one in three drinkers (30%) said they were drinking less or had stopped during shutdowns, and of those almost half (46%) said they would continue to drink less when the restrictions were eased.
Drinkers aged under 35 years have been the most likely to give up drinking completely during this period, with more than one in seven (15%) abstaining from alcohol while they have been unable to socialize at restaurants or bars.
Of the minority of drinkers (11%) who were drinking more during shutdowns, most (72%) said they were planning to revert to their previous drinking habits once lockdowns have eased and bars and restaurants reopen.
However, concern remains for an average of 5% of drinkers who said their alcohol consumption had led to them experiencing more problems due to their drinking under the coronavirus restrictions.
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.”
Socializing and dining out at restaurants or bars is missed by 54% of people, second only to socializing with friends and family (64%). It ranks highly within the things missed about normal life in all nine countries. Overall, the majority of respondents in nearly all countries believe that the current restrictions during shutdowns are just about right.
However, there are clear divisions in South Africa, where an alcohol ban was put in place during shutdown. Almost half of respondents in South Africa (46%) felt that regulations surrounding the sale and purchase of alcohol in their country were too restrictive. This has resulted in drinkers obtaining alcohol during shutdown from other sources*, with 45% saying they made their own homemade alcohol and 29% acquiring homemade alcohol from others. This suggests that drinkers were accessing and consuming unregulated and potentially toxic alcohol drinks, and breaching shutdown rules to do so.
In Mexico, where heavy restrictions on alcohol were put in place in some local states, almost one in four people felt regulations in their country were too restrictive (24%).
Sadly, both Mexico and South Africa have seen deaths or illness from unregulated and illicit alcohol during their shutdowns. In Mexico, over 150 people died in May alone after consuming illicit alcohol. These deaths happened in local states where alcohol had been banned during shutdown.
Commenting on the growth of illicit alcohol in these markets, Henry Ashworth said:
“Unregulated and illicit alcohol is bad for government, bad for economies, and potentially very bad for health. Although most governments have looked at ways that legal and regulated producers could stay open during this period, a few countries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing heavy restrictions that are leading to unintended consequences, such as driving consumers to unregulated sources of alcohol.”
*Respondents were asked which, if any, of the following sources they had bought or obtained alcohol since stay at home orders began: in-store; online purchase; restaurant/bar delivery or takeaway; I have been making my own; I have been getting it from others who make their own; and other.
 For more information about the wide-reaching implications of unregulated alcohol, please see IARD’s Alcohol in the Shadow Economy report.
Notes to Editors: