Day drinking during COVID-19

Global patterns of drinking alcohol earlier in the day during COVID-19 restrictions – who is doing it and what does that mean?

COVID-19 has changed our world, and our drinking habits along with it. While most research on risky alcohol use is concerned with how often and how much people are drinking, it is also important to look at when they are drinking. For example, pre-drinking— the phenomenon of ‘drinking before going out to nightclubs’ — is linked with higher levels of alcohol use, intoxication, and harms [1,2]. Given the restrictions associated with COVID-19, most people aren’t going out anymore, but our recent research has found that for many people, pre-drinking, of a sort, still exists, as many people are now drinking earlier in the day, which may be linked to worsened mental health outcomes.

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) is the world’s largest annual online survey of people who use drugs, run in multiple countries. Usually undertaken at the end of each year, this year the GDS ran a Special Edition COVID-19 survey from May to June 2020 to offer insights into the impact COVID-19 has had on people who use alcohol and other drugs, their mental health and relationships. This allowed for us to gather a snapshot of people’s alcohol use during the pandemic, with the survey including questions about drinking frequency, intensity and timing compared to before March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Australian sample, consisting of 1,889 respondents, were predominantly young adults, with half of respondents aged 25 years and under. The global sample included over 55,000 people, with 25% aged 25 and younger. Only countries with 100 or more respondents were included in our analyses of the global sample (a total of 20 countries).

Are people drinking differently?

In the Australian sample, 37% reported drinking earlier in the day compared to pre-COVID-19, and 46% reported increased drinking (including frequency, amount and/or instances of binge drinking) since this time. Those who reported increased drinking most commonly said it was because of boredom (60%), having more time (52%), and spending more time drinking with their partner or household (40%).

Looking at the global sample, 30% of respondents stated they were drinking earlier in the day compared to pre-COVID-19, and in line with Australia, 46% reported increased drinking. The most common reasons for reporting increased drinking were the same – boredom (42%), having more time (41%) and spending more time drinking with their partner or household (37%).

Among respondents from all 20 countries, we found that those who reported drinking earlier in the day were significantly more likely to report drinking more frequently, drinking a larger amount of alcohol overall and engaging in more frequent binge drinking (all p values <0.05).

Who is drinking earlier?

The respondents who most frequently reported drinking earlier in the day (compared to pre-COVID-19) were from Mexico, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

In almost all countries surveyed, females were significantly more likely to report drinking earlier than males (p<0.05). Early drinking was reported least frequently by people aged 35-44, and patterns of early drinking among the other age groups differed by country. In Australia, people aged 25-24 were most likely to report drinking earlier, while the highest percentage of those not reporting drinking earlier were aged 45 and over (p<0.05). Figure 1 below shows that globally, early drinking and age were related; as age increased, the likelihood of reporting earlier drinking decreased (p<0.05).

Figure 1. The predicted percentage of drinking earlier in the day compared to pre-COVID-19 by age (in years).

What does this mean?

Although many people may think that drinking at home is risk-free, our data show that people around the world who reported drinking earlier in the day (compared to pre-COVID-19) typically reported drinking more alcohol more often, and reported an increased frequency of binge drinking. Furthermore, those who reported drinking earlier in the day were also more likely to report having a mental health condition, meaning that drinking earlier in the day may be linked to worsened mental health outcomes. These respondents also reported significantly higher frequency of unpleasant feelings (nervous, hopeless, restless, depressed, worthless or everything being an effort) in the last 30 days.

What next?

As restrictions ease, people who have started drinking earlier may return to their usual habits. However, there is also a risk that as licensed venues start re-opening, those who are now used to drinking earlier in the day may be more likely to pre-drink before going out, potentially resulting in increased alcohol-related harms in night-time economies. Future research may benefit from exploring these issues in further detail, to reduce harms associated with risky drinking.

If you are interested in reducing your alcohol use, please check out our Drinks Meter app, a free app that provides instant and anonymous feedback on your drinking behaviours.

Find out more about how people’s alcohol and other drug use has changed following COVID-19 here.

Authors: Dr Cheneal Puljevic1,2, Ms Steffi Cook1, Dr Monica Barratt3,4, Dr Emma Davies5, Prof Adam Winstock6,7, A/Prof Jason Ferris1

1 Centre for Health Services Research, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

2 School of Public Health, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

3 Social and Global Studies Centre, RMIT University, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

4 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney, NSW, Australia

5 Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

6 University College London, Gower St, Bloomsbury, London, UK

7 Global Drug Survey Ltd, London, UK

References

1.         Ferris J, Puljevic C, Labhart F, Winstock A, Kuntsche E. The role of sex and age on pre-drinking: An exploratory international comparison of 27 countries. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2019;54(4):378-85. https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agz040

2.         Labhart F, Ferris J, Winstock A, Kuntsche E. The country-level effects of drinking, heavy drinking and drink prices on pre-drinking: An international comparison of 25 countries. Drug and Alcohol Review. 2017;36(6):74250.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/dar.12525

 


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