Ireland only one of two European countries where drinking did not fall during pandemic

Two countries stand out as ‘notable anomalies’, Covid-19 survey finds

 People with takeaway pints  alongside the Grand Canal in Portobello, Dublin. Photograph: Damien Eagers

People with takeaway pints alongside the Grand Canal in Portobello, Dublin. Photograph: Damien Eagers

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Ireland is one of only two countries in Europe where alcohol consumption did not decline during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new research.

There were significant decreases in average consumption of alcohol in all 21 European countries surveyed for the research, except the UK and Ireland.

The two countries stand out as “notable anomalies” compared to their European neighbours, the study published in Addiction journal says.

Average consumption remained unchanged in Ireland. In the UK, drinking frequencies and quantities consumed per occasion increased considerably, but not binge drinking.

Covid-19 ‘distress’

One possible explanation for the diverging pattern of consumption could be an interaction between particularly high levels of Covid-19 “distress” in Ireland and the UK “and a wider adoption of alcohol as a coping strategy in the general population,” the authors suggest.

They also point out that England recorded one of the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe and an increase in alcohol-related deaths.

Falls in consumption across Europe were mostly linked to decreased availability of alcohol, followed by increases in distress. But Ireland recorded the biggest increase is distress “related to changes in everyday life”.

Most of the reduction in other countries was driven by decreases in the number of binge-drinking episodes among those surveyed.

Almost 500 people from Ireland participated in the European Alcohol and Covid-19 Survey, which gathered data from almost 32,000 drinkers across Europe between late April and late July 2020.

Binge consumption

People were asked whether their frequency of drinking, the quantity consumed or their binge consumption of alcohol had changed. They also reported previous consumption, information about household income and whether they had experienced financial difficulties or other pandemic-related 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 reduce their drinking than those who reported no distress.  

People with high incomes reported the largest reductions in alcohol consumption, provided they did not report financial distress.

In contrast, changes in drinking among respondents with low incomes appeared to be independent of financial distress. 

The largest average decreases were found in Albania, Finland, Greece, Italy, Slovakia, and Spain.  

While pubs in Ireland have been shut for much of the pandemic, off-licences remained open throughout.