Drinking in Europe declined on average in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic
Following the outbreak of the corona pandemic in March 2020, scientists from TU Dresden initiated a research collaboration with more than 20 participating European research institutions with great commitment and without external funding. The aim of the large-scale study „European Survey on Alcohol Use and COVID-19“ was to investigate alcohol consumption during the pandemic in 21 countries. Now, the results of the study are available, showing that average alcohol consumption declined significantly in all countries except Ireland and the United Kingdom. The study was published this week in the journal ‚Addiction‘.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly changed our everyday lives, which is also reflected in the consumption of alcohol. The investigation of alcohol consumption behavior during this time in more detail and across countries was the declared goal of Prof. Jürgen Rehm, Dr. Jakob Manthey and M. Sc. Carolin Kilian from the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the Technische Universität Dresden. Immediately after the World Health Organization had declared the spread of the coronavirus a global pandemic in March 2020, the project was founded under the coordination of M.Sc. Carolin Kilian and in collaboration with the Hospital Clínic Barcelona, Spain. To realize the research project, a European research network was quickly established, enabling a population survey of adults in more than 20 European countries.
The research collaboration gathered data from almost 32,000 alcohol users across Europe from late April to late July 2020. Respondents were asked about whether (1) their frequency of drinking occasions, (2) quantity of alcohol consumed per occasion, or (3) frequency of heavy episodic drinking, had changed during the past month. They also reported their pre-pandemic past-year alcohol consumption, their pre-pandemic monthly net household income and whether they had experienced financial difficulties or other pandemic-related distress.
On average, alcohol consumption was reported to have decreased in almost all countries. The only exceptions were Ireland, where decreases and increases evened each other out, and the United Kingdom, where an increase in overall alcohol consumption was reported. Most of the reduction was driven by decreases in the number of heavy episodic (or binge) drinking episodes. Project manager Carolin Kilian adds, „The fact that many drinking opportunities were eliminated in the first few months of the pandemic probably contributed to many people drinking less alcohol during that time.“
The role of distress
One in five respondents reported substantial or high levels of financial distress related to the pandemic, and more than half reported distress due to changes in their everyday life. Those who reported distress were less likely to decrease their drinking than those who reported no distress.
The role of income
Respondents with high incomes reported the largest reductions in alcohol consumption; however, for these respondents, changes in alcohol consumption seemed to depend on their experiences of financial distress: respondents with high income and no financial distress were the group most likely to report reductions in their alcohol use, while high income respondents who experienced financial distress tended to report less reduction in consumption. In contrast, changes in drinking among respondents with low incomes appeared to be independent of financial distress.
Results per country
The number of participants per country ranged between 349 in Albania to 15,686 in Norway. As indicated, the summary score, which expressed the average change in alcohol consumption, was negative in all but two countries (Ireland and UK), pointing to decreased overall consumption in all the other countries at this stage of the pandemic. The largest average decreases were found in Albania, Finland, Greece, Italy, Slovakia, and Spain.
Institut für Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie
Kilian C, Rehm J, Allebeck P, Braddick F, Gual A, Barták M, Bloomfield K, Gil A, Neufeld M, O'Donnell A, Petruzelka B, Rogalewicz V, Schulte B, Manthey J, and the European Study Group on Alcohol Use and COVID-19 (2021) Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe: a large-scale cross-sectional study in 21 countries. Addiction 116: doi:10.1111/add.15530