The cost of Covid: Low mental wellbeing and drinking to cope prevail.

Barometer Research Paper

Newly published research on Covid-19’s impact on alcohol behaviour and attitudes.

A year on – Irish adults’ behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol in the context of Covid-19, explores for the first time, the impact of Covid-19 on Irish adults’ behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol a year on from its onset. Low mental wellbeing, drinking to cope, and increases in the number of people weekly and binge drinking dominate the report, although sustained and growing positive trends re change in drinking behaviours are also identified.

This first-of-its-kind research, reveals which behaviours, formed/changed in the initial lockdown in 2020, have transformed into established patterns of new rituals around alcohol. Identifying which behaviours have become embedded, amongst which groups, and why, a year on from the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, is critical if the emerging negative activities are to be addressed and the positives encouraged and scaled.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 55% adults reported drinking on a weekly basis in 2021 versus 52% in 2020 (44% in 2019)
  • 49% indicate binge drinking in the past 30 days versus 46% in 2020 (36%** in 2019)
  • 61% indicated frequently drinking for coping reasons (60% in 2020, 50% in 2019)
  • Low mental wellbeing peaked among 25–34-yrs at 43% as well as those that increased their consumption in the past twelve months
  • 18-24-year-olds reported significant levels of stress/tension, whereby 66% said it had increased during the initial lockdown phase in 2020, but a year on in 2021, 39% reported no change to their levels of stress/tension, and 37% reported an increase in stress/tension in 2021.
  • A Positive rise in those reporting they would like to drink alcohol less often – 30% in 2021 versus 24% in 2020
  • A Positive rise in those who said they had already made small positive changes – 37% in 2021 versus 31% in 2020

This report is the second paper in the Drinkaware Barometer Paper Series. The Drinkaware Barometer is an annual survey that measures the behaviours and attitudes of adults towards alcohol in Ireland. “A year on – Irish adult’s behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol in the context of Covid-19″, provides a unique and in-depth insight into the lived experience of the pandemic for adults in Ireland in 2020-2021. It tells the evolving story of those attitudes, behaviours and culture, and provides a rich analysis of alcohol in Ireland, which is essential reading for anyone engaged in the prevention and reduction of alcohol misuse.

Specific population groups that the report’s findings suggest have experienced negative changes regarding alcohol include:

  • Families with pre-school children were most likely to report increased alcohol consumption across household type/lifestage in either amount of alcohol consumed, or frequency of drinking, in the past 12 months, with 28% doing so.
  • Men who report binge drinking on a typical day of drinking, rose from 27% in 2020 to 31% in 2021.
  • 18-24 yr olds who report binge drinking on a typical day of drinking nearly doubled to 31% in 2021, from 16% at the time of the initial lockdown phase in 2020.

The research, carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults, also reveals important positive trends. In 2021, 37% reported making small positive changes to their drinking habits in the past 12 months and 30% reported that they would like to drink less, both representing increases on the 2020 figures of 6%. 1 in 3 adults report that they will continue to decrease their consumption in 2021 as 35% indicated they have decreased the amount of drinks they have had and 33% have decreased the frequency of drinks since COVID-19. Of those who have decreased their alcohol consumption, the 18-24 age cohort were the most likely across all age cohorts to report both a decrease in the amount at 41% and a decrease in frequency at 45%.

The Barometer Paper Series and this report’s commentary, reflect the complexity of data regarding alcohol, and Irish society’s relationship with alcohol. It cautions of the danger in discussing alcohol in Ireland in too simple and definitive terms, where the nuances of the data are reduced to a polarised narrative of dependent drinkers and ‘the rest’.   

Commenting on the report, CEO Sheena Horgan said: “The most commonly asked question is “How much are we drinking?” But the critical question is “Why do we drink”? Without this information, risky drinking cannot be sustainably addressed. This research paper provides an in-depth story of who, what, where, when and why of drinking in Ireland one year into the Covid-19 pandemic. It reveals which behaviours formed and or changed in the initial lockdown, and what behaviours may have become our ‘new normal’ in terms of our attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol.

“The importance of insights captured from lived experiences cannot be under-estimated. Alcohol consumption cannot be viewed or analysed in isolation, and it is the comprehensive approach that this research paper takes that allows us to better define, encourage, support and enable positive behaviour change with the public. Our Barometer data identifies the lived experiences of Irish adults during the pandemic, and their behaviours and attitudes towards alcohol, which in turn will inform the design of appropriate behaviour change interventions to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse and harm going forward.”

The full report can be accessed here.

The Barometer Paper Series is a collection of research papers that analyse and explore key aspects of the annual Barometer findings. The inaugural paper in the Series title was published in 2021 and can be viewed here.

Data is from the Drinkaware Barometer 2020 and Drinkaware Barometer 2021, conducted in April/May 2020 and April/May 2021 respectively.

**Slightly different wording used in 2019 – so not a direct comparison.