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Drug and Alcohol Use Survey 2022

Posted by Martin Preston
on 11 Aug 2022


Many Brits find themselves in the pub more often when the summer months creep in. So, it leads us to wonder why people are more drawn to alcohol and substances during this time: is it because more people are doing it, so they feel less guilty? Is it due to increased promotion and advertisements around alcohol, from pubs and restaurants? 

To answer these burning questions, we have surveyed a staggering 2,000 UK residents to see whether their drinking or drug habits have changed in the last 12 months. 

With this information, we have been able to pinpoint the different drugs that have become more popular in the last year, whether the pandemic had an impact on substance abuse and, in general, why people turn to substances in the first place. 

Do Brits consume more alcohol when on vacation? 

The excuse of ‘we’re on holiday, why not?!’ is something everybody has heard – and that doesn’t just go for food and overspending, it usually refers to alcohol as well. When crunching the numbers of our survey, we were able to determine that a shocking 66% of Brits increased their alcohol intake while on holiday. 

It turns out that Brits are so renowned for binge-drinking abroad that a recent article revealed a new law in Spain that stipulated only six drinks a day. While six alcoholic drinks may seem like a huge amount to some people, there have been hundreds of complaints since the new law was passed, highlighting the importance of drinking on holiday for Brits. 

Another worrying statistic revealed in our study was that 20% of Brits drink an average of two drinks every single day, while 5% admitted to consuming over eight alcoholic drinks per day, while on holiday. 

With the NHS stating that the absolute limit for weekly alcohol consumption should be ‘six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine’, it becomes obvious that some Brits up their alcohol intake to harmful levels after landing in sunnier countries. 

This number becomes even more shocking when taking into account the fact that most ‘holiday drinks’ are likely to be a lot stronger than drinks at home, with a lot of bartenders favouring free-pouring rather than measuring. 

Founder and Chief Executive, Martin Preston has shared his insight on the issue:

“Holidays have always been seen as a free-pass to over-consume as much as possible, with the mindset that normality would resume when the vacation was over. However, this could always be easier said than done, as a recent article highlighted that all-inclusive holidays were ‘on the rise’ since the end of the pandemic – suggesting that more people than ever are keen to take advantage of the excessive amount of booze on offer. 

“While damage to the liver and actual liver failure, caused by alcohol consumption, usually takes years to have an effect, these kinds of issues can happen in a matter of weeks if extreme alcohol abuse is apparent. This highlights that drinking dangerous levels of alcohol on vacation can take on a significant amount of damage in a short space of time.”

What impact did the pandemic have on drug use?

It is safe to say that levels of boredom reached extreme highs over the pandemic and the numerous lockdowns. With thousands of people on furlough, our survey revealed that over the last 12 months, 39% of males have increased their alcohol consumption. This is compared to a slightly lower 29% of females. Both of these numbers represent an issue in the UK that needs to be addressed, which could be why a huge 60% of people have made a conscious effort to limit their consumption of booze. 

However, alcohol is not the only substance that people in the UK have been drawn toward in the last 12 months. 58% of people revealed that they have increased their usage of legal highs in the last year, which includes things such as ‘Bath Salts’ and ‘PlantFood’. They are said to offer a similar feeling to that of Class A drugs like cocaine and ecstasy, although people are guaranteed to feel different effects. 

Dr Catherine Carney Psychiatrist at Delamere has shared her thoughts on the matter of an increase in legal high usage:

“As the majority of people in the UK, excluding essential workers, were not permitted to leave their houses, it is no wonder that many of them resorted to more unique methods of getting a ‘buzz’. With many legal high substances available on the web, it could be said that with purchasing cocaine and ecstasy becoming considerably harder over lockdown, Brits resorted to anything they could get their hands on.

“Legal highs and alcohol are not the only substances on the rise over the last 12 months, with our data shining a light on 53% of Brits upping their ketamine usage in the last year. As ketamine, a tranquiliser can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, it is not a drug to be taken lightly. When mixed with other drugs, it can have a disastrous effect on the body, even impacting your short and long-term memory. It also works to make you feel more numb to pain, meaning it can lead to serious injury without you even realising it. 

Martin Preston has offered his thoughts on the rise of ketamine usage:

“As ketamine is renowned for offering a numbing effect, as well as one that allows the user to feel ‘detached’, it could be said that more people have turned to it since the pandemic due to the trauma that time period caused for many Brits. 

“These people could have suffered a loss at the hands of the coronavirus. They could have also experienced a decline in their mental health, which is why the prospect of feeling almost nothing could seem very appealing.”

Do we associate drug and alcohol use with happiness? 

Our data revealed that out of 2,000 people asked, a massive 39% of them admitted that alcohol made them feel happier. Despite acknowledging the negative connotations of regularly drinking, it is not surprising that the pandemic left more people reaching for the bottle in order to block out the world around them. 

As well as this, 39% of people also stated that consuming cannabis made them feel happier, too. Many people swear by cannabis as a way to make them feel ‘relaxed’, which is usually a symptom of feeling ‘stoned’. 

Unsurprisingly, given its name, a whopping 30% of Brits revealed that taking ecstasy made them feel happier. The notoriously long-lasting drug can encourage feelings of energy and alertness, with many young Brits opting to take it rather than drinking alcohol at events that require a lot of dancing and physical exertion. 

Clinical Director, Mike Delaney shared his thoughts:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that alcohol makes people feel happier, but why? Studies have shown that drinking alcohol, despite it being a depressant, causes the brain to release more dopamine, which encourages pleasurable feelings to flow towards the reward centres in the brain. 

“This then offers a sense of what could be seen as ‘faux happiness’, as the emotion has been brought on directly because of a substance. However, people need to keep drinking to top up this feeling, which promotes the likelihood of binge-drinking.”

Why do Brits use drugs and alcohol? 

As we have now established the scientific impact that alcohol and drugs have on the brain, it is time to consider the specific emotions that Brits are trying to achieve when they consume alcohol and drugs. 

After asking 2,000 people why they drank alcohol, it was revealed that 56% of them wanted to feel ‘relaxed’. Many aspects of life can be stressful for people in the UK, with jobs, children, university, money and now the rising cost of living guaranteed to have an impact on stress levels. 

Due to this, 21% of people we asked stated that they wanted to diminish feelings of stress, leading to a direct link between people embarking on a vicious cycle of abusing alcohol due to raised levels of anxiety and pressure. 

When it came to cannabis, 46% of people also said that they used it for relaxation purposes – which is of little surprise, due to the recent popularity of even the non-psychoactive part of the plant, cannabidiol, which is used in CBD oil. 

Surprisingly, only 10% of people said that they used alcohol to enhance a social activity. With a recent study pinpointing the fact that alcohol can actually make you feel more sociable, such a small figure was very unexpected when it came to this topic. 

As many people in the UK suffer from social anxiety, and taking into consideration our previously discussed statistic of 56% of people using alcohol to relax, it is refreshing to know that fewer people are using booze as a social coping mechanism. Another study revealed that 30 million adult Brits drank alcohol, highlighting its prevalence in social events in general. 

26% of Brits revealed that they used cocaine to enhance social activities – much higher than the statistic for alcohol. Interestingly, 17% of the people we asked said they also consumed cocaine to ‘stay awake’ for longer, possibly for similar reasons to people taking ecstasy during raves and activities packed with physical activity. 

One in twelve Brits confessed that they used alcohol to diminish depressed thoughts. With depression impacting one in six adults, it is hardly surprising to learn that so many of them are abusing alcohol to feel more balanced. On top of this, 25% of Brits said that they often reached for ketamine in order to lessen thoughts of a depressing nature. This could be due to its ability to induce numbness and no feeling at all, as we have previously mentioned. 

This figure represents a very worrying issue of combining depression and anxiety medication with alcohol, too, which can lessen the effect your medication is supposed to be having. It can also encourage vomiting, dizziness, and drowsiness. However, as antidepressants can have nasty side effects when taken on their own, it begs the question of whether people suffering from depression are turning to alcohol to avoid them. 

Is substance abuse seasonal? 

So why do Brits drink more alcohol and increase their consumption of drugs in the summer? We spoke to Mike Delaney at Delamere to find out:

“Our findings lead us to believe that yes, substance abuse can indeed be seasonal. This is due to findings such as 53% of people admitting that summer is their favourite time of the year to abuse alcohol – potentially due to the increase in the number of events and opportunities to be outdoors with your friends. Out of all the substances we analysed, alcohol was by far the most popular in the summertime – with 80% of people favouring it over drugs. 

“Cannabis was in second place with 69%. Despite not being as popular as alcohol in the warmer months, it still remained very close to the top of the list, potentially due to its social connotations and many people choosing to use it with friends. Cocaine was in third place with a score of 65%, while heroine sat at the bottom with only 29%. Despite this, 45% of people we asked admitted to abusing heroine more in the springtime, rather than summer. 

“When it came to alcohol and winter months, fuelled by festive activities, adverts promoting excessive drinking and the classic ‘it’s Christmas’ excuses, it was no surprise that 11% said they favoured this time period for alcohol usage. Similarly to the summer months, winter can also be charged with anxiety and depression for many people, as a lot of Brits face poverty, loneliness and social anxiety surrounding events.

“While many of these findings may seem bleak and like the UK is stuck in a rut of substance abuse it cannot get out of, acknowledging there is an issue is always a very helpful starting point. 

“As drug usage and, especially, drinking is so normalised, especially after the stress and loss people endured during the pandemic, it can be very easy to sweep the fact you have a problem under the rug. At Delamere, we work to pinpoint your reasons for turning to drugs and alcohol, focusing on you as a person to help you find a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Methodology: 

Through the research platform Censuswide, we surveyed residents of the UK to assess the scale of drugs and alcohol across the country. The data collected was based on an online survey sample of 2,000 nationally representative UK adults and ten questions were asked. 

The data analysed was broken down by region, city location and by age and gender. 




About the author: Martin Preston

Martin created Delamere in order to provide exemplary care in first class facilities. Find out more about Martin on our team page.



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