One third of respondents surveyed on their drinking during the Level 4 lockdown say they are drinking less than before the lockdown while almost half say they are drinking at the same levels.

However, one in five report drinking more than usual with increased drinking more prevalent among 25 to 49-year-olds. The majority of those who are drinking more say it is to help them relax or switch off.

Te Hiringa Hauora/Health Promotion Agency commissioned Nielsen to undertake an online survey to look at the impact of Alert Level 4 conditions on people’s alcohol consumption. The survey was conducted from 7 – 13 April 2020, which corresponded with Alert Level 4 lockdown days 13 to 19.

Te Hiringa Hauora General Manager Policy, Research and Advice Cath Edmondson said “We initiated this because we were concerned about the easy availability of alcohol during lockdown. Communities have also been worried about the impact of alcohol during lockdown”.

Ms Edmondson said the survey returned mixed results.

“The good news is about a third are drinking less. In particular, a high proportion of MÄori (42%), Pasifika (57%) and young drinkers aged 18 to 24 (51%) report drinking less.

“The main reasons people give for drinking less are reduced opportunities to socialise, reduced access and cost pressures. Some are also using lockdown as an opportunity to cut back. Around half of respondents have seen a drop in household income,” she said.

“But more concerning is that 1 in 5, or around 20%, are drinking more, and this is pretty consistent across ethnic groups. We are concerned that this is likely to include people who were already drinking at hazardous levels before lockdown started.”

Some people are also drinking more often, with 19% of those who drank in the last week drinking daily, compared to 11% pre-lockdown. Daily drinking is particularly high for pÄkehÄ drinkers.

And for one of our COVID-19 high risk groups, 1 in 3 older drinkers (aged 65+), or 33 %, are drinking daily compared with 26% prior to lockdown.

Boredom, relaxation and stress relief are driving these increases.

“We know that alcohol can impair the immune system so, when we move to Alert Level 3 our key message continues to be that it’s important to drink less to stay as healthy as possible during this time,” said Ms Edmondson.

“It’s also important we recognise that access restrictions and affordability issues mean many people are drinking less. This is good news, and making alcohol less affordable and available should be longer term goals.”