More Scots drank alone at home during the first national lockdown than in England, according to new research.

Scientists studied the habits of 41,507 adult drinkers in Scotland and 253,148 south of the border, comparing the first lockdown in March 2020 to the easing of restrictions in July and the re-introduction of measures in October.

It found that shop-bought alcohol consumption increased after the first lockdown and remained persistently higher than in previous years throughout the rest of 2020, even when lockdown restrictions were eased.

While it is not surprising that more alcohol was purchased and consumed at home when pubs, clubs and restaurants were shut, researchers say it could lead to “concerning” shifts in behaviour.

Most studies so far have concentrated on the first few months of the pandemic but this research, by the universities of Glasgow and Sheffield, looked at data up until December 2020.

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It found that while people were broadly drinking the same amount when restrictions were in place and ended, there was an increase in drinking later in the evening.

Lockdown measures were also associated with spikes in solo home drinking in Scotland but this was not seen in England, although researchers say this may be due to a higher proportion of Scots living alone.

The researchers noted that lockdown measures tended to be slightly stricter in Scotland than in England.

The Herald:

The analysis also suggests a statistically significant increase in binge drinking sessions per week and drinking days and (in England only) proportion of individuals drinking more than 14 units per week following the initial March 2020 lockdown. These changes persisted as restrictions were eased.

The majority of studies so far have found that alcohol consumption increased among some groups, such as problem drinkers, but decreased in others.

Dr Iain Hardie, lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, said: “Going forward it remains unclear what the long-term consequences will be of the changes in alcohol consumption in 2020.

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"With hospitality premises back operating at closer to full capacity it's likely that alcohol consumption in these venues will move closer to pre-pandemic levels, although they could potentially decline again in response to new variants if restrictions are reintroduced or people are afraid of indoor spaces.”

“However, the increase in home drinking in 2020 is a concern.

"We know from other studies that alcohol related harm has risen during the pandemic. The increase in home drinking is likely to have contributed to this.

"In the past, home drinking has been a relatively under researched topic, and there is now a need to monitor it more going forward to find out whether these home drinking habits picked up by people in 2020 become a new norm within peoples' drinking behaviour.”

The rate of alcohol-related hospital stays in the first year of the Covid pandemic was down 10% on the previous 12 months, accoring to figures published on Tuesday.

However, Public Health Scotland said the fall in numbers between April 2020 and the end of March 2021 could have been affected by Covid measures.

Admission to hospital was tightly restricted during many months.