COVID-19 and long-term drinking habits

Pubs, bars and nightclubs have closed as part of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given sales from licensed premises make up approximately one quarter of all alcohol sales in Australia, the way we drink and the harms we experience from alcohol consumption are set to change. But how?

The closure of licensed premises will likely reduce some key alcohol related harms – especially those linked to public violence and other disorder in the night-time economy. Drink-driving and related accidents will inevitably fall.

However, beyond this, the changes might not be so obvious or positive.

We already know that the most popular place for Australians to drink before the pandemic was their own home. In a 2013 survey, we estimated that 63% of all alcohol consumed in Australia was consumed in the drinker’s own home.

So the ‘stay at home’ directive is unlikely to have the profound effect that we might think.

What might change is the reasons we drink, the time that we start drinking and how often we drink – and this might continue to influence the way we drink in our own homes when the pandemic is over.

Studies of drinking motives have shown that drinking to cope is common among those seeking treatment for problematic alcohol use. Therefore a rise in people drinking to cope with all the stresses associated with the pandemic is a cause for concern.

Furthermore, home drinking is thought to be highly habitual; an increase in alcohol consumption at home during the pandemic might be difficult to reverse when the pandemic is over.

Finally, there is preliminary evidence to suggest that on-demand delivery of alcohol to people’s homes is linked to a higher likelihood of risky drinking. Many licensed premises have made the shift to home delivery to stay afloat.

While many of these businesses will presumably cease this service after the pandemic, it is not clear how many will continue. Nor is it clear if the proliferation of these services will result in a shift to the way people purchase alcohol in the future.

We know that the pandemic is affecting every aspect of our lives – and an increase in alcohol consumption is just one of the potentially harmful effects.

Let’s use this time at home as a chance to develop healthy habits, not those that will cause us harm.

Originally published by Australian Community Media.

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