Time for a Quarantini? Fiona Walker asks: ‘Has Covid-19 changed our drinking habits?’

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A world turned upside down

When it was announced UK schools would close from 20th March, and the reality of having three primary aged children at home hit me, I realised that my research plans could not continue.  Not only did my planned study involve a degree of face-to-face contact, it was also a complex, applied intervention that required meticulous planning and a lot of administration. I knew I wouldn’t have the capacity to do it justice. At first, I was resigned to taking an intermission but, as the lockdown was announced and we all retreated into our homes for an uncertain length of time, I started to notice an opportunity for a new study, related to my existing research on people’s attitudes and behaviour surrounding the consumption of alcohol. 

This unprecedented, strange, and frightening time brings a unique opportunity to examine changing attitudes to alcohol consumption in response to stress, health concerns and changes in daily living circumstances.

Pass the wine!

Even in in the first days of lockdown it was clear that, without the usual markers in our week, many socially accepted ‘rules’ of behaviour had begun to break down. I noticed the many references to alcohol on social media and in conversations with my friends, among them:

  • “Why wait for Friday to have a drink when every day feels a little like the weekend?”
  • “It’s never too early to mix up the first ‘quarantini’ of the day, right?”
  • “Pass the wine!” (simple, yet effective!)

Admittedly, my social group consists mainly of exhausted parents trying to balance the challenge of providing a semblance of home-learning for their children with work of some form, whether that’s keyworker shifts or full-time working from home. Perhaps parents are seeking the ‘release’ that a drink can represent more than others. But some of my friends are furloughed or self-employed and currently unable to work, and anxiety about the future is growing. Several work for airlines and are waiting to hear news of redundancy. Others are putting in long shifts in A&E and feeling the effects, both physically and mentally. These situations are affecting many groups of people, parents or not.

A 2018 survey by Drinkaware and YouGov revealed that 58% of adults drank in order to help cope with stress. I certainly know many who are pouring their first glass of wine earlier and earlier…and on most days of the week. And research shows that home-poured drinks are generally more generous than those served in a bar.

More or less?

So, are people really drinking more (or is it just my friends?)

  • Alcohol sales in off-licenses alone grew by 32.6% month on month in March, which would seem to support the idea that people are drinking more, or at least planning for the possibility.
  • Recently published research by Alcohol Change UK suggests that one in five people is drinking more during lockdown.
  • On the flipside, one in three is making significant attempts to cut back or stop drinking altogether.

I am interested in building upon this research to gain an in-depth understanding of the effect that Covid-19 is having on people’s attitudes towards drinking and their alcohol intake. My hope is that my research findings will help inform alcohol health messages and interventions to help people understand and manage their drinking behaviour.

A new opportunity

It was intense designing a new study and submitting it for ethical review so quickly. However, I feel fortunate that I have been able to adapt my research in these circumstances as I am aware that this is not possible for all of my colleagues and many are facing challenging times. Despite this, the research community continues to be supportive. My questionnaire has been shared widely on social media and my research has featured in the local press. I am so grateful to each and every one who has completed the questionnaire and shared details of my study at this time when my time and opportunity are more limited than ever.

If you are interested in taking part in or sharing my study, please visit:

  https://tinyurl.com/y78r7rso.

Participants must be:

  • Aged 18 or over
  • Typically resident in the UK
  • Consumers of alcoholic drinks.

The questionnaire takes around 20 minutes to complete and asks about alcohol consumption, current concerns about health, current stress levels and thoughts about alcohol and health.

All participants will be entered into a prize draw to win one of two £50 Amazon vouchers.


Sussex Researchers: If you have had to change your research plans to work within the Covid-19 pandemic and would like to tell us about your experiences and advertise your research, get in touch with the Hive Scholars:

Reach us at @sussexreshive on Twitter or Instagram or email us at researchhive@sussex.ac.uk

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