Shut pubs and a lack of social contact have changed the view of a ‘socially acceptable’ amount and time to drink. Has the pandemic affected our relationship with alcohol? And, is student drinking culture changing as a result?
Drink if you’re in a pandemic
It is possible that people are drinking during lockdown due to lack of structure to their day; a beer in the evening could help differentiate between working hard and playing hard. Not to mention the obvious; students have had much more free time due to online learning and nowhere to go – thus alcohol can alleviate some boredom.
Stress. It’s everywhere these days. According to a survey, 1 in 5 British people have been drinking more over lockdown and stress has been cited as the main reason behind this. So, what is the issue? Needless to say, drinking during tough times will only enhance the negative emotions we’re trying to forget (be that anxiety, loneliness or depression), and may lead to the potential development of further mental and physical health issues.
We never actually learn to process and handle these negative feelings
Unfortunately, there is often the notion that alcohol will relieve us of our burdens. Consequently, we never actually learn to process and handle these negative feelings. Leading to the ‘need’ to keep drinking more to avoid these feelings; this can make even casual drinking (especially in a difficult lockdown) toxic if not careful.
Just one more…
Does that mean people are drinking more… or less? The answer to this depends. We all made jokes at some point over lockdown that we would become alcohol-dependent – a naive remark but one that highlights an unfortunate truth undermining uni student culture. As Rock City nights become a forgotten memory, there is an ostensible change in drinking habits.
Alcohol sales actually rose during lockdown
Since socialising is a lockdown no-no, it would make sense to think people would be less inclined to drink. Yet, this is not the case: alcohol sales actually rose during lockdown (with an 18.1% increase in volume in 2020). I definitely began drinking more in the first lockdown but barely (relative to myself) drank anything during Autumn semester.
In fact, Alcohol Change UK found that students were more likely to have increased their alcohol consumption during lockdown (admittedly the study was for the first lockdown, where the weather was better and Zoom Quizzes reigned). Students who reported increased alcohol consumption were generally motivated by, as stated earlier, lockdown-mediated anxiety, loneliness, and boredom – “what else is there to do in the evening?”, we would say.
While alcohol consumption has increased, it is not due to the “binge drinking” culture that tends to prevail around university. This makes sense as there are no club nights to enjoy anyway. Instead, students are drinking smaller quantities, more often; this follows students claims that they are mainly drinking at family meals – in much smaller quantities than they would at university.
Some students have reduced how much they drink over lockdown. These students have claimed that since they only drink socially, they have no craving to drink at home. It is also likely that some students did not want to drink with/in the company of their families for various reasons.
Student drinking habits have undeniably shifted since the beginning of lockdown. Despite the strong link between university life and heavy alcohol consumption, many students seemed to have turned away from the ‘I-feel-happy juice’.
Cocktails to Corona
I strongly doubt many of us are having Jägerbombs with our siblings.
If no one can go to pubs or clubs, has what we drink changed? Now that students are more likely to casually drink with family at home, I strongly doubt many of us are having Jägerbombs with our siblings.
When volumes are considered, wine and beer sales increased by 18.9% and 27.3% respectively over 2020, while prosecco and sparkling wines increased by merely 7.9% – guess there really wasn’t anything to celebrate last year.
Remember: lockdown has been tough on us all and so it’s crucial we don’t seek alcohol as a coping mechanism. Drinking socially with family and friends (even whilst studying) is okay, as long as we see alcohol for all its vices too.
Whether students will return to their old drinking habits when pubs are allowed to reopen remains uncertain. Here’s hoping we get pubs open soon (with no further lockdowns). Till April 12th, Cheers!
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