OFTEN, when we hear “people are drinking more”, we assume it’s other people, not ourselves, but here’s why you should reconsider that assumption and think about what’s happening in your own household.
A recently launched research paper from Drinkaware the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse found that household type can be an indicator of alcohol consumption, in particular during the initial stages of lockdown.
The Families, Alcohol and Covid-19 paper breaks family household type down into three categories — pre-school, primary school and teenage — and looks at which households increased their alcohol consumption in the first weeks of lockdown and why. The importance of why cannot be overstated. The main motivation for households with children, especially those with pre-school aged children, for drinking alcohol was coping.
It is important to be aware that the volume of alcohol consumed is just as important as the frequency of drinking, because there is a clear link with excessive drinking and low mental wellbeing. This research gave a worrying insight into families with younger children (pre-school and primary school), who reported lower levels of frequency but higher levels of excessive or binge drinking (binge drinking is defined as six or more standard drinks in one setting, examples of a standard drink are half a pint of beer or 100ml glass of wine).
Drinkaware’s annual survey showed than among Irish adults that reported any binge drinking during the initial lockdown, 44% also reported low mental wellbeing.
Clearly family households have been under intense pressure these last 16 months, and as a consequence, they are more likely to report low mental wellbeing than other households. In the paper, low mental health peaked among families with teenagers with over half reporting a low score, although they were less likely to report increased alcohol consumption or using alcohol as a coping strategy compared to pre-teen families. This might be that teenagers are a protective factor, as parents are more aware of how their behaviours and attitudes towards alcohol can affect them. But the importance of role modelling extends to children of all ages and although intuitively we might expect role modelling around alcohol to be more important as children get older, research shows that children of all ages are impacted by their parents’ attitudes and behaviours towards to alcohol.
A major concern raised in this research is the normalisation of these new behaviours.
If families with young children began drinking more either in frequency or volume during the first lockdown period and continue these behaviours into the future, their attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol could negatively impact and influence their children.
But there are also some encouraging findings from this research: Nearly 1 in 3 (31%) of pre- school households report that they would like to drink less and 36% of households with primary school children indicating that they have already made some small positive changes.
So, there is a level of self-awareness of their drinking amongst many family households, who therefore want to decrease their alcohol consumption. And at Drinkaware, we’re supporting those, and all households and individuals, who want to cut down or cut out their alcohol intake. We understand that changing habits that may have formed pre and during Covid, is not always easy. So, our website and digital channels offer practical tips and advice on how to do so, with supports and suggestions on alternatives to alcohol and drinking.
We have all done our best to manage an unprecedented set of circumstances and this research indicates that for many family households, alcohol has been used as a crutch in these times.
As society begins to reopen, we are at a crucial point where we need to challenge any unhealthy behaviours that may have become the norm during the restrictions.
It is not a time to judge or chastise the public or parents for their behaviour but it is a time to build society’s, households’ and individuals’ awareness and understanding of the potential harms of these new habits, particularly their possible longer-term impact on shaping children’s attitudes, expectations and future behaviour regarding alcohol.