Coronavirus in Scotland: Alcohol sales drop during pandemic but concerns over increase in ‘home alone’ drinking

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Alcohol consumption in Scotland during the Covid-19 pandemic has been lower than expected but lone drinking at home has increased, a new report has shown.

While alcohol consumption as a whole reduced, charities raised concerns about increases among those who were already drinking more heavily.

The findings are included in two Public Health Scotland reports published on Tuesday, which compared the early months of lockdown with the same period in 2019.

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The increase in lone drinking at home was seen in single adult households, households with three or more adults, and those in full time education.

The report also found that the time of day at which Scots begin drinking has shifted to later in the evening.

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A second PHS report found a six per cent reduction in sales of alcohol in Scotland between March and July, compared with forecasts based on previous data which took account of the switch from alcohol consumption in licensed premises to at home.

In response to the findings, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “Prior to Covid-19 we were already a nation of home-drinkers with almost three-quarters of all alcohol bought in Scotland sold in the off-trade.

"This data shows that, with on sales closed during the first lockdown, much - but not all - of the alcohol we would have consumed in bars and restaurants was replaced by off-sales purchases from shops.

"It is encouraging that in total we drank less but we know that for some of us our drinking has become more of a problem during the pandemic as we struggle with isolation and stress.”

Public Health Minister Mairi Gougeon raised concern over at-home lone drinkers.

She said: “While the findings of these reports reflect a welcome reduction of total alcohol consumption in Scotland we will continue to track and monitor the effect of the pandemic on harm that alcohol can cause.

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“We know that lower levels of consumption overall can sometimes mask the alcohol intake of individuals. Notably, one of the findings from self-reported surveys shows an increase in people drinking on their own in both Scotland and England."

Lead author of the report, Dr Abigail Stevely, Research Associate from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, said: “Our new research finds that alcohol consumption fell overall, in both Scotland and England, as increased drinking in the off-trade did not fully compensate for the reduction in on-trade drinking.”

She added: “Despite some concerns that people might drink more in the day-time, we actually found that there was a shift towards people starting drinking later in the evening. This perhaps reflects changes in people’s routines and the absence of opportunities for daytime socialising such as going to the pub with colleagues after work.

“Although we find people drank less overall, there is evidence from other studies that heavier drinkers may have increased their consumption during lockdown. It will be therefore important to continue monitoring drinking during the pandemic to prevent additional health problems in future.”

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