The process of planning for the Drinkaware Barometer 2023

 We were excited to commence the ‘planning phase’ for our 2023 Barometer in May. The Drinkaware Barometer is a national population-based survey of 1,000 adults aged 18+ conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes on annual basis and includes a series of internationally recognised modules relating to alcohol consumption and mental health. On each occasion, the Drinkaware team takes time to carefully consider revisions as well as potential for additional questions in order to fully capture attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol in any given year. Since our 2022 Barometer, the combination of the pandemic and ongoing war in Ukraine has sent prices soaring, changing the way we live our lives.  

In 2022, some the additions provided excellent insights to general assumptions that the Irish drinking culture is changing, with signs of a positive cultural shift in attitudes to alcohol identified. 39% of adults agreed that ‘Irish drinking culture has changed for the better over the last 3 years’.  

Now in our seventh iteration of the Barometer, it is essential that we take care to repeat the core questions that need repeating, but to not keep building/creating more avenues for exploration that run the risk of us not having the capacity to do justice to all of the findings in this ever-expanding data set. To that point, it was vital that we reviewed each draft question in terms of its direct application to how it shapes our work and campaigns. Focus should not just be on comparing year on year in the Barometer series, we need to leverage investment i.e. we asked X in 2022, therefore we decided to ask Y in 2023 to find out more on this. For example, small positive changes were highlighted year on year in 2022 with 30% of drinkers agreeing they ‘would like to drink alcohol less often’ (up from 24% pre-covid). This peaks amongst weekly and binge drinkers, and those who have increased consumption since the start of Covid 19. There is now scope to tease this out further in 2023 with additional questions. Thus, the next step is to better understand the adults who are drinking/want to drink less and provide information on the why these actions are taken and not just intentions. We added several options this year to help us in this regard: ‘I’m more conscious now about the health harms associated with alcohol’, ‘I’ve had a bad experience when drink that I don’t want to repeat’, ‘I can’t afford to drink as much as I used to’, ‘I’d rather spend my money on other things.’ At the same time, we were also interested in potential barriers to positive behaviour change and this year we decided to find out more information from those that stated that they don’t want to drink less. We provided participants with a number of potential reasons to help explain why, including the following: ‘I don’t need to because I drink less than most people I know’, I’m not an alcoholic / dependent drinker’, ‘My friends wouldn’t want to go out with me’ and ‘I don’t need to now because I will drink less when I’m older.’ 

Rather than simply repeat the same questions in 2023, we felt that there was merit in starting to ask additional questions in order to help build up a more comprehensive understanding of specific issues across the Barometer series. For example, this was the case when considering how to incorporate COVID-19 in our 2023 Barometer. While COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, it is vital that we continue to examine the legacy of the pandemic and specifically its impact on adults’ drinking. We therefore decided to ask a series of questions in 2023 that would help us add to data previously collected during 2020-2022 (COVID-19 has impacted the amount/frequency of alcohol I drink’) as well as continuing to examine positive cultural shifts reported (Irish drinking culture has changed for the better since COVID-19′).  

Mental health reported in 2022 has not returned to pre-pandemic levels plus we identified some worrying findings for specific cohorts during 2020-2022 including young adults and those that increased the amount or frequency of alcohol consumed since March 2020. Alongside the validated tool, the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS) (Stewert-Brown et al. 2009), we decided for 2023 to ask several questions capturing both the potential ‘legacy’ of COVID-19 data in terms of impact on wellbeing but also information regarding adults’ worries and stresses relating to the current context of the rising cost of living, all the while being careful regarding the sensitivity of asking such questions. For instance, participants were asked whether they agreed/disagreed with the following statements ‘My daily routine has changed since COVID-19′ and ‘My social circle is smaller since COVID-19′.  

On drinking occasions, we made several slight changes as highlighted by our previous Barometers conducted during the pandemic 2020-2022. For example, we were interested in examining solitary drinking in different contexts post-Pandemic and therefore added the option of ‘Going out for a drink alone’ as well as ‘Drinking at home alone’. We were also concerned that potentially the various options did not fully capture all possible occasions for drinking particularly for young adults. For instance, the outdoor/open area option added in 2021 because of public health measures introduced was removed in 2022 to reflect changes with lifting of such COVID-19 restrictions. However, there was potential room for misinterpretation in not capturing adults that drink in open spaces post-COVID-19 including at events and so in 2023, we decided to add back in but also revise this option further to the following: ‘Drinking with others outdoors/ in gardens/ parks/ festivals or concerts.’ 

The data collection phase for our 2023 Barometer is set to take place during July. All data collected will be securely stored and analysed by B&A using quantitative software and we envisage that initial findings will be available in September. We look forward to sharing evidence gathered from this body of work over the coming months including at our Autumn 2023 Research Briefing Event (date TBC). Due to the large volume of data, we intend to publish future papers in 2023 and into early 2024 on specific topics/issues highlighted in this years’ Barometer. If you would like further information of have a specific research query, please feel free to contact our Research and Impacts Manager, Dr Ann Stokes .