Coronavirus: Kiwis turned to cannabis and alcohol to cope during lockdown - study

Nearly half of all Kiwi adults drank alcohol more frequently and heavily during the lockdown and its aftermath than they normally would, a new survey has found. 

Women led the way, 52 percent of them drinking more often and 48 percent more heavily than usual the 2020 Global Drug Survey found.

Nearly 3000 Kiwis took part in the international research, which this year focused on how people's drug use was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns implemented to suppress it. 

Stuck at home, many people turned to alcohol and other drugs - while others cut back, robbed of opportunities for socialising with friends. 

"There's been a number of New Zealanders that have increased their consumption during lockdown, and they've maintained that post-lockdown," Nicki Jackson of Alcohol Healthwatch told The AM Show on Thursday.

"It's come down a little bit. We had a large number of New Zealanders that did reduce their drinking during lockdown - that's fantastic, we need to sustain that. But we've still got those at the other end, particularly the heavy drinkers,that drank even more." 

Only 18 percent of Kiwis said they cut back on the frequency of their drinking, and 13 percent on the amount. 

Trans and non-binary respondents were least likely to cut back, but on the other hand didn't increase their consumption as much as other Kiwis. 

Of the 2812 who took part, 46 percent cited having more time to drink as a reason for their increased boozing. The same number said it was because they were bored, and a third said it was because they were stressed out by the threat of COVID-19. 

Change in alcohol consumption during the lockdown.
Change in alcohol consumption during the lockdown. Photo credit: Global Drug Survey

Ten percent said they drank more to cope with having to spend more time with their partner, 26 percent called it a "reward" for surviving the pandemic and 19 percent said they were more lonely and/or depressed. Four percent turned to alcohol because they couldn't get their hands on other drugs. 

Unsurprisingly, 45 percent of those who increased their drinking said it had taken a toll on their physical health, and 25 percent on their mental health. Both statistics were worse for those who went into the lockdown already suffering mental health issues. 

Of those who consumed less, 56 percent said it was because they weren't hanging out with their drinking buddies as much and 40 percent couldn't make it to their favourite bar. Only 4 percent said it was because they had to spend more time looking after kids.

Reasons people drank more.
Reasons people drank more. Photo credit: Global Drug Survey

Tellingly, a similar number of Kiwis that increased their drinking during lockdown said they planned to cut back in future.

Cannabis use also went up during the lockdown, with 41 percent saying they upped their toking, and only 16 percent reducing it. More than half of users said they had more time to get high, and those who increased their use generally reported it improved their relationship with their partner and enjoyment of the lockdown. People with a mental health condition were more likely to report improvements to their health thanks to an increased use of cannabis. 

The minority who cut back on cannabis cited difficulty getting hold of it and fewer people to get high with. Like alcohol, very few - just 3 percent - blamed childcare responsibilities. 

Reasons people drank less.
Reasons people drank less. Photo credit: Global Drug Survey

Other drugs - particularly those associated with the nightclub and party scene - saw massive declines in use.

"MDMA and cocaine were the most likely to have decreased compared to February, with lack of access to normal settings of use (like nightclubs, festivals, parties) being the most common reason for the change," said study co-leader Monica Barratt from RMIT University in Australia, speaking about the Australian drug use figures, which were similar to New Zealand's. 

Only 8 percent of Kiwis upped their cocaine use, 41 percent using less. MDMA, or ecstasy, was also not very popular - 37 percent cutting back and only 17 percent using more. About 40 percent of people who cut back said they didn't feel like using MDMA and cocaine at home. 

Kiwi drug users said prices went up during the lockdown, while drug purity and the range on offer went down. 

Half of those who bought illicit substances said their dealer made no changes to their transaction process, despite the COVID-19 threat - only 7 percent wore a mask or gloves, and only 3 percent stopped accepting cash payments. 

The Global Drug Survey was conducted worldwide in May and June, interviewing more than 55,000 people from around the world. Previous years' surveys have found Kiwis are overcharged for cocaine compared to other countries and magic mushrooms are safer than most other illicit drugs.