Heaviest drinkers bought 17 times more alcohol than light drinkers during lockdowns

People who were already at risk of alcohol harm bought ‘significantly’ more alcohol during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a new study by Newcastle University and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). People in the top fifth of households for alcohol purchases bought 17 times more alcohol from retail outlets than the bottom fifth, says the study published in scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The research covers the March to June 2020 lockdown period and echoes previous studies which found that those already drinking the most increased their consumption during lockdowns. Households in the North were buying the most alcohol, the study found, with the North East of England consistently recording the highest alcohol-related death and hospital admission rates (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/alcohol-specific-deaths-up-almost-20-per-cent/).

Researchers analysed shopping data from almost 80,000 households over a five-year period, which included around 5m purchases of alcohol. The average purchase per adult in the top fifth group was around 38 units per week – however, as this was averaged out per household it could mean that people in some households were ‘drinking much more than this amount’. Households in the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber regions increased their purchases more than in any other part of the UK, ‘with the suggestion that this is probably because the North has more socially disadvantaged, heavier-purchasing households’. Less pronounced purchasing increases in Scotland and Wales could be down to the implementation of MUP, say the researchers.

Prof Peter Anderson: Policies to reduce high levels of drinking ‘even more important’

‘Our analysis has highlighted that the heaviest drinkers and those living in some of the most deprived communities in the UK have increased their household alcohol purchases significantly during COVID-19 lockdown periods, with undoubted consequences for both physical and mental health – and in many thousands of cases sadly leading to death,’ said lead author Professor Peter Anderson of Newcastle University. ‘This suggests that a focus on policies to reduce high levels of drinking are even more important in extraordinary times, such as those we’ve seen since March 2020 – where a complex range of factors can lead to higher and potentially dangerous levels of longer-term drinking.’

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore: Another key opportunity for minimum unit pricing to make a difference

The findings have renewed calls for MUP to be implemented in England. ‘The alcohol harm crisis will continue to deepen if the government doesn’t take action now,’ said Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘This study suggests that minimum unit pricing can make a difference to purchases – with household alcohol purchases from shops and supermarkets in Scotland and Wales not increasing by the same level as England over the course of the 2020 lockdown. By failing to implement minimum unit pricing as part of its plans for public health, England is now falling further behind the rest of the UK in the race to tackle alcohol harm.’

Study at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/




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