The COVID-19 alcohol paradox: British household purchases during 2020 compared with 2015-2019

Peter Anderson*, Amy O'Donnell, Eva Jane-Llopis, Eileen Kaner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


British supermarket-panel data suggest no increases in overall sales and purchases of alcohol following COVID-19 lockdowns, yet survey and mortality data suggest otherwise. This paper attempts to unravel the paradox. Based on purchase data of 79,417 British households from Kantar Worldpanel, we undertake controlled interrupted time series analysis of the impact of COVID-19 confinement introduced on 23rd March 2020, and variably applied during 2020, compared to purchases during 2015 to 2019 as controls. We also undertook Poisson regression analyses to estimate if changes in purchases differed by household socio-demographic and economic factors. Excess off-trade household alcohol purchases (expressed as grams of ethanol) following the introduction of confinement, were 29.2% higher (95% CI = 25.8% to 32.5%) for the post-confinement months of 2020, being larger until mid-July 2020 (37.5%, 95%CI = 33.9 to 41.26%) when pubs re-opened with restrictions, and smaller (24.6%, 95%CI = 21.6 to 27.7) thereafter. During the time of complete pub closures, and fully adjusting for no on-trade purchases, household purchases of alcohol did not change when compared with the same time period during 2015-2019 (coefficient = -0.9%, 95%CI = -5.6 to 3.8). Excess purchases from 23rd March to 31st December 2020 varied by region of Great Britain, being higher in the north of England, and lower in Scotland and Wales. Excess purchases were greater in the most deprived households, compared with the least deprived households. Excess purchases increased substantially as the amount of alcohol normally purchased by a household increased, with the top one fifth of households that normally bought the most alcohol increasing their purchases more than 17 times than the bottom one fifth of households that bought the least alcohol. That the heaviest buyers of alcohol increased their purchases the most, with some independent impact of socio-economic disadvantage, might explain why reported alcohol problems and recent alcohol-related death rates might have increased. A conclusion of this is that alcohol policy to reduce high consumption of alcohol, and the availability of help and treatment to reduce alcohol consumption become more important during extraordinary times, such as COVID lockdowns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0261609
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2022


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking/economics
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Consumer Behavior/statistics & numerical data
  • Economic Factors
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • SARS-CoV-2/isolation & purification
  • Social Class
  • United Kingdom/epidemiology
  • Young Adult

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