Drinkaware were delighted to host their 10th Research Briefing event on 23rd June 2022. Dr. Maggie Matthews, Behaviour and Attitudes (B&A), gave the keynote presentation focusing on analysis that she has undertook using data from the latest qualitative Drinkaware research titled “Parents, COVID-19 and Alcohol: A Qualitative Study“.
Dr Matthews, who was the lead researcher of the project, provided the various stakeholders from across a range of disciplines and backgrounds with a captivating and astute presentation of the research. Once, the presentation was finished there was an opportunity to discuss some of issues further as part of a Q&A with Drinkaware CEO Sheena Horgan.
The 2020 and 2021 Drinkaware Barometers, and the research paper “Families, Alcohol & COVID-19 – A detailed analysis of the drinking practices of adults in households with children during the ongoing pandemic” (Drinkaware 2021), directed the Drinkaware research team towards further research into families’ experience of COVID-19 and its impact on attitudes & behaviours towards alcohol. The presentation explored the dynamics of the changes found in the research in more detail, through a qualitative perspective as we find that it is better placed to unpack complexities and nuance, and to invite confiding of difficult subjects.
The above was highlighted at the beginning of the presentation by Sheena Horgan. Dr Matthews began the presentation highlighting the context of Covid-19 and the government restrictions. She emphasised that during the restrictions, many parents felt that they were put under disproportionate pressure with little to no support.
Parental Drinking Habits
Dr Matthews then detailed some of the discussed parental drinking habits that developed during lockdown. Key points she discussed included how lockdown conditions disrupted our usual routines, re-emphasising how parents had to construct new habits with little resources. Within this context, alcohol became an easy answer to the many issues faced. Alcohol became an accompaniment to many of the activities during lockdown and at times, alcohol consumption became the activity as it was an easy to hand option.
Dr Matthews referred to one of the quotes which referred to the popular sentiment of those surveyed, as normal routines fell away many tried to develop positive habits, but parents were home all the time and the opportunity to drink during weeknights increased. Other cited reasons included the absence of clear boundaries between weekends and weekdays, with the pressure to be up in the morning abated, parents were more at liberty to structure their day how they liked and without having to be in an office there was more flexibility as to when work was done. Essentially, having a drink at home became a possibility in a way it had never been before.
Lockdown and Increased Consumption
Another interesting concept that was discussed was that increased consumption was normalised during the lockdowns and evidence of this was quite visible. The prevalent ‘evidence’ created a self-legitimacy and expectation to people’s consumption.
While the presentation highlighted that there were collective experiences during the pandemic, there were many differences with parental experiences depending on the ages of the children. This discussed family dynamics but did stress that parents were consuming more alcohol but for varied reasons and under different circumstances
Another crucial point that was stressed was that most of the interviewees reported the worst period, in terms of increased consumption took place in lockdown 1 and the excesses that were reached then generally were not reached again as many consciously pulled back after realising that their drinking had reached levels that they were not happy with. Upon reflection, many noted that their drinking has not gone back to pre-COVID-19 routines. At least some habits established during the lockdown period have remained.
Dr Matthews discussed parents’ reflections on their drinking levels during the pandemic and the recognition of problematic drinking habits. Many parents discussed the consequences of this such as suffering slightly more with hangovers, weight gain and feeling sluggish during the day. A point of note is that fathers reported more of these impacts than mothers, which suggests that they indulged to a greater extent. An interesting consensus point for most of the sample was that they did not feel that their drinking was at problematic levels.
The consensus was that drinking every night or drinking to ‘blind drunk’ levels would indicate problematic levels, but consuming “a reasonable amount” was fine. Having said that, there was a limited awareness or recognition of what a reasonable amount of alcohol was, what the HSE Low Risk Weekly Guidelines were and what the definition of “dependence” was.
Dr Matthews discussed the preferred moderation techniques of parents. Temporary abstinence and alcohol-free days were the most popular. Drinking levels within relationships were discussed and it was near universally recognised that men had increased their consumption at a higher rate than women. It was noteworthy that partners became concerned over lockdown levels of drinking, not because of amounts but when new behaviours and habits developed new behaviours that they had not seen before.
Parents and Children
The final topic that Dr Matthews discussed was parental drinking and children. Parents accepted that their children would be exposed to a certain level of drinking and the behaviours associated with drinking at an early age, but the parents’ position came from a place of love and protection and the wish to shield their children from harm. It was intriguing that there was a categorisation element where stereotypical behaviours associated with heavy drinking such as violence, aggression, loss of control, use of aggressive and bad language was depicted as “drunkenness,” while other forms of drinking such as with a meal or with wine was seen as socially acceptable.
Another key highlight was that parents tended not to have a problem with their children knowing that they drink or seeing that they drink but parents had some arbitrary rules regarding alcohol that seem to not be based off any scientific consensus. It was noticeably clear that parents desired to control the narrative about their drinking, to present themselves in a positive light to their children, to convey that some kinds of drinking are more acceptable than others. This was especially in the case of teenagers who are regarded as close to drinking age themselves.
Sheena Horgan brought the presentation to an end sharing recommendations and the (virtual) floor was opened for questions.
We look forward to facilitating further discussion on alcohol and behavioural change by hosting our next research briefing in Autumn 2022 and in so doing, contribute to sharing learnings and knowledge. If you would like to be added to our invite list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We also encourage you to look at the section dedicated to our Research Briefing Series on our website to which any outputs from this and all previous events are added and freely accessible.