Credit: Adam Wilson via Unsplash

Lockdown sees smoking decreased but an increase in alcohol consumption and psychological distress

By Karolina Omenzetter

A study led by the University of Glasgow has analysed trends during early lockdown.

A recently published study led by the University of Glasgow has shown that during the Covid-19 lockdown saw alcohol consumption increase, whilst smoking declined.

The study analysed trends in mental health and changes in associated behaviours during the first month of lockdown suggesting that psychological distress and alcohol consumption has generally increased over the time period meanwhile smoking rates have taken a marginal decrease. 

The analysis, involving representative samples of more than 27,000 over 18s, was led by the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing. It has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

The results were collected through online surveys in April and compared to prior data from 2017-2019. There has been an increase from 19.4% to 30.6% in the percentage of people reporting signs of psychological distress, accompanying a surge in the number of people feeling that they were less able to enjoy day to day life activities. A few of the other listed symptoms of psychological distress in the study included feeling not useful, less capable of making decisions, and being unhappy or depressed. A statistically significant rise in the number of participants relating to three or more of the symptoms was also observed. Degree educated individuals, women, young people, and Asian minority ethnic groups were particularly affected showing a large increase in psychological stress. 

An increased number of young people and women reported feeling lonely meanwhile the reverse trend was seen amongst men. The study highlights that the adverse impact on the mental health of women has been due to a likelihood for women to work in disciplines most affected by the pandemic and the additional childcare burden.

Drinking habits appear to have changed during the period, too. Individuals report drinking four or more times a week and binge drinking has increased, especially amongst degree level educated women from white ethnic groups. The proportion of people drinking five or more drinks on a typical drinking day plummeted for young people from 31.9% to only 8.5%.

Smoking and e-cigarette use decreased in the first month of lockdown, which again was more prevalent within younger groups and men. The decrease appears to be due to light smokers ceasing to smoke.

Although decreased smoking rates are promising for the health of the population, the increased alcohol consumption and levels of distress is a concern. The Scottish government has reported that one in three people hospitalised due to Covid-19 faced severe mental health consequences afterwards, meanwhile, various charities report that more people are currently experiencing mental health issues due to being worried for loved ones and government restrictions leading to less social interactions.

Professor S Vittal Katikireddi, one of the researchers, stated: “Our study has shown that poor mental health deteriorated markedly during the early lockdown period, with these changes much larger than those seen during other recent studies. While we were not able to study students specifically, we do know that young people’s mental health had particularly deteriorated. However, our study was based on data until April 2020 and does not, therefore, capture any trends since then, including any potential adverse consequences of uncertainty arising from school exam results and similar issues. Further research to understand what’s happened more recently is needed. For individual students that are experiencing difficulties at this challenging time, it’s worth remembering that support services are available within the university, as well as through the NHS.” 

The study, named “Mental health and health behaviours before and during the initial phase of Covid-19 lockdown: Longitudinal analyses of the UK Household Longitudinal Study”, was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments