Generation Z, defined for the purpose of this study as those aged 18 to 24, was the group most likely to have decreased their alcohol consumption, with 44 per cent reporting they were drinking less because of fewer opportunities to go out for social drinks.
That was more than double the rate for any other generation. Only about one in five Millennials (25 to 39), Generation X (40 to 55) and Baby Boomers (56 to 74), reported drinking less.
Generation X is the group most likely to be having boozy nights at home, with 45 per cent reporting increased intake. Baby Boomers were not far behind at 42 per cent, compared with 36 per cent of Millennials and 26 per cent of Generation Z.
Professor Ritter said the research, which included a survey of almost 600 people in NSW, asked about alcohol consumption in February and this was repeated in May during the lockdown and July, with further follow-ups planned.
She said negative feelings such as depression and anxiety had increased because of the pandemic, but it was not associated with an increase in drinking.
By household type, parents with children at home were the most likely to be drinking more than before the pandemic and the least likely to have decreased their consumption. Even so, a large proportion said their drinking was about the same.
Couples without children or with adult children were the most likely to have kept their habits the same, far more than other household types including share houses and people living alone. A relatively large number (35 per cent) of people in shared households said they were drinking less.
In the UNSW study, there were no significant differences between women and men in terms of their likelihood to have increased or decreased their drinking or stayed the same.
Men were heavier drinkers before lockdown, with the National Drug Strategy Household survey for the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing women drink an average of 2.7 standard drinks a day compared with four for men. AIHW figures also show 22 per cent of men drink alcohol to the level of a lifetime risk, compared with 8 per cent of women.
“There’s been a lot of talk about females increasing their drinking but we probably should be talking more about men, especially older men,” Professor Ritter said.
Estimates published by alcohol lobby group Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education from 2019 found that of the top 10 per cent of drinkers, three out of four were male.
John Williamson, 37, from Orange in the Central West, developed alcoholic hepatitis in his 20s and his drinking “spiralled out of control” when he broke up with his ex-partner, the mother of his daughter, in his 30s. After a suicide attempt in 2017, he turned his life around and uses the Daybreak app as a tool to manage alcohol.
Mr Williamson said he learned to be a heavy drinker from his father and it was reinforced by Australian drinking culture.
“There’s a macho element attached to it too, which I find really toxic,” he said. “You go out all night and you’re expected to drink 30 beers and behave like a dickhead – that’s the reality of it. When I needed to be completely sober, I lost a lot of friends because of that.”
Mr Williamson said the pandemic has not affected his recovery but it made sense to him that older people would shift their drinking to home. “At the end of the day if you want to drink, you will, whether the pub is closed or not,” he said.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.