Drinking heavily at home has become a feature of British life

Researchers from the University of Sheffield have found that more Brits are drinking from the comfort of their homes than ever before.

Whilst affordability is a factor as the price of alcohol continues to increase, experts have warned that drinking at home leads to engagement in ‘higher risk drinking’.

Drinking at home raises many issues, the first being ‘pre-drinking’. Amongst young people in particular, many are buying cheap alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets before heading on a night out. This heavy episodic pre-drinking routine is now embedded in British drinking culture.

The common aim of pre-drinking is to drink heavily and therefore minimise the costs when out in bars and clubs, but drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short space of time is unhealthy for a number of reasons, including:

  • Alcohol can take time to reach the bloodstream, tricking a person into feeling more sober than they are
  • Once drunk, a person’s decision-making is impaired and they may go on drinking regardless of how much they’ve already consumed
  • Consuming more than one standard alcoholic drink per hour can cause alcohol to flood to the brain. Depending on the amount and the speed a person is drinking, this can affect the brain stem and potentially cause it to shut down completely. This may interfere with vital body functions and cause: giddiness, unsteadiness, difficulty with speech, and double vision.

The dramatic increase in the number of people in the UK drinking at home, instead of going out, raises a second issue. When in a pub or in a restaurant, people are automatically more responsible.

It may be that socialising, or another form of distraction, leads to less consistent drinking; however, there are a number of factors which contribute to comparatively lower consumption over the course of an evening out, including:

  • The wait for to be served enforces short breaks, but being at home allows for seamless topping up/refilling
  • Standard measures are used in licensed venues, whereas drinking at home leads to limited regulation of measures
  • The act of paying for each drink sees people pace themselves and show more consideration when out, but when at home the drinks have already been purchased, thereby removing this consideration
  • Venues have bouncers or bar staff who will indicate when a person has had too much to drink and refuse further service, whereas at home a person can just carry on regardless.

Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research group, Dr John Holmes commented:

“Far from the stereotypes of binge Britain or a nation of pub-drinkers, we find that British drinking culture mixes routine home drinking with elements of excess. Young people do binge drink on big nights out but we also see heavy drinking among middle-aged couples relaxing at home and among all ages at domestic get-togethers.”

Reaffirming that drinking from home has become a problem in the UK, Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies continued:

"Two thirds of all alcohol sold in the UK is bought from shops and supermarkets, which is a big change from the traditional British pub culture. The fact that it is so much cheaper to drink at home is a huge driver for this shift, which is why tackling cheap supermarket drink would help pubs and also improve the nation’s health.

“The increased availability of cheap alcohol means frequent home drinking is more commonplace, including drinking at home before heading out to a pub or restaurant. This makes it very easy to exceed the low risk drinking guidelines recommended by our Chief Medical Officers, which raises risks of cancer, heart disease and liver cirrhosis. It’s important that consumers are aware of how many units are in their drinks and how alcohol may affect their health so they can make fully informed decisions about their drinking.”

If you think that you or someone you know could have a problem with alcohol, please feel free to visit our Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments available for alcoholism. 

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