Possibilities and pitfalls? Moderate drinking and alcohol abstinence at home since the COVID-19 lockdown

Nicholls, Emily and Conroy, Dominic (2021) Possibilities and pitfalls? Moderate drinking and alcohol abstinence at home since the COVID-19 lockdown. International Journal of Drug Policy, 88 (103025). ISSN 0955-3959


The global ‘lockdowns’ and social distancing measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought about unprecedented social changes, including the sudden, temporary closure of licensed venues and significant modifications to leisure and drinking practices. In this piece, we argue that these changes invite researchers to consider the short and longer-term consequences in terms of continuities and changes to the practices and symbolism of alcohol consumption both within and beyond domestic spaces. We do this by drawing on illustrations from our emergent qualitative research involving internet-mediated semi-structured and focus group interviews with 20 participants from the UK (aged 26-65) concerning experiences of drinking in and beyond ‘lockdown’. In sharing these early findings, we hope to highlight themes relevant to understanding drinking behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic and to stimulate dialogue for immediate research priorities in this area. Key topic areas in our data appear to concern; variability in heavy/moderate/light/non-drinking practices while drinking at home, lockdown as an opportunity to reassess relationships with alcohol, and the symbolic role of alcohol in internet-mediated communications and interactions. Longstanding policymaker and practitioner concerns with managing public drinking and public order may have been unsettled by a growth in home-based drinking, although, as we argue, such changes were in motion before the global pandemic. We propose that a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities the pandemic presents for (re)negotiating relationships with alcohol may offer wider lessons around how individuals and communities might be supported via innovative policy measures to change their relationships with alcohol both during and beyond lockdown.

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