Research shows alcohol purchases for the heaviest drinkers increased by 17 times during lockdown

Posted on: 24th February 2022

New research has found that Britain’s heaviest drinkers bought around 17 times more alcohol from shops and supermarkets than the lowest purchasing households during the lockdown period of March to July 2020.

The data also demonstrates that households in socially disadvantaged areas bought more alcohol, and those in the North of England increased their purchases more than any other area in Britain. As well as underlining the importance in tackling regional and local disparities in alcohol harm, this could also help to explain why 2020 saw the biggest jump in alcohol-related liver disease deaths in the last two decades.

Alcohol is the biggest cause of liver disease in the UK. The Government’s UK Health Security report on alcohol consumption and harm during the COVID-19 pandemic showed an unprecedented increase in alcohol-related liver disease deaths. In 2020, 5,608 alcohol-related liver deaths were recorded in England, a rise of almost 21% compared to 2019. This is substantially above pre-COVID trends - between 2018 and 2019 the increase was under 3%.

Although most people who drink stick within the government limits, around 1 in 4 people drink alcohol in a way that could harm their health.

Strikingly, increases in purchases over the same period were generally less pronounced in Scotland and Wales, suggesting that minimum unit pricing can reduce supermarket and store alcohol purchases. Minimum unit pricing is a floor price below which a unit of alcohol. People who drink most heavily tend to favour strong and cheap drinks, and these are the drinks that minimum unit pricing targets.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Whilst alcohol is only one of the causes, it is still the leading cause of deaths from liver disease. In addition, reducing alcohol harm benefits everyone in society, relieving pressure on the NHS and many other public services funded by the tax-payer. We need urgent action by Government to address the alcohol-related liver disease crisis.”