COVID-19 and NZ drinking

It is clear that the global pandemic has had an immediate impact on alcohol consumption in Aotearoa New Zealand, and that it represents a picture of both good and bad news.

During Level 4 lockdown and post lockdown Level 1, the Health Promotion Agency surveyed drinkers about their alcohol use. Among those who had consumed alcohol in the past four weeks, key findings showed that when compared to pre-lockdown:



increased their consumption


no change in consumption

decreased their consumption

During Level 4 lockdown




In Level 1




Key findings by ethnicity and age (when compared to prelockdown) showed:

  • 22% of Māori drinkers increased their consumption in Level 4 lockdown. This prevalence did not decrease once lockdown ended (22% had also increased consumption at Level 1)
  • 20% of Pasifika drinkers increased their consumption in Level 4 lockdown, halving to 10% at Level 1.
  • 51% of 18-24 year olds decreased their consumption in Level 4 lockdown, and 26% at Level 1.
  • 19% of 18-24 year olds increased their consumption in Level 4 lockdown, and 23% at Level 1.

Early findings show that 22% of Māori drinkers increased their consumption during Level 4 lockdown and this did not decrease following the end of lockdown

Across all study participants, reasons given for drinking more included: 1) it helps me relax/switch off, 2) I have been feeling stressed out/anxious, and 3) I have been bored.

Reasons given for drinking less included: 1) haven't been able to, or haven't wanted to, socialise as much or go out/visit the pub etc., 2) money/cost, 3) haven't wanted to go out and buy alcohol, 4) physical health reasons (e.g. weight, health condition, to be healthier), and 5) the lockdown period was a good time to reduce how much I drink and I want to continue drinking less.

It is imperative that we do everything we can to support Aotearoa New Zealanders who have maintained lower levels of drinking during, and after, Level 4 lockdown. This is the ‘good news’ of alcohol use during the global pandemic.

Some impacts of the pandemic on alcohol use will likely be immediate, whilst others will occur over a longer time period. The longer term impacts are believed to include a normalisation of home drinking, reinforcing or introducing drinking as a way to self-medicate symptoms of stress, anxiety, boredom and an increased prevalence of newly diagnosed patients with alcohol use disorders (as well as relapse among persons with a disorder) (see here, here, here, here, here).

Many people will use alcohol to cope with the on-going impacts of the pandemic. Research shows that individuals who drink for coping reasons are at a heightened risk of developing problems with alcohol. Depression and anxiety have been found to be associated with drinking to cope. Factors such as unemployment, time spent unemployed, redundancy, increased workloads and reduced workplace morale due to loss of staff are also likely to result in a heightened vulnerability to developing new, or exacerbating existing, alcohol-related problems.