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Has Alcohol Use Increased During Covid?

Posted by Erin Fischer on

For many people alcohol is something they have at the end of a hard day and something they use to help them unwind or it’s something you do with friends. Drinking is quite a large part of Australian culture and it’s not uncommon to have a beer with friends or split a bottle of wine when eating out. However, since Covid hit our shores bringing with it lockdowns, self-isolation and everything else that has happened over the past 18 months. It’s now considered uncommon to drink with friends and drinking alone is something that has become widely accepted. When you also take into consideration the stressors of Covid, consistent restriction changes and that working from home means you can start drinking much earlier without having any major repercussions. It makes sense that alcohol use has increased over the pandemic but by how much?

According to a study from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness that looked at the impact Covid had/has on alcohol consumption, we are lead to believe that during Covid alcohol consumption increased. Last March there was a huge jump on spending on alcohol however in April it dipped, with experts believing this was due to the fear that bottle shops would be forced to close during lockdowns and stockpiling. Then from May 2020 onwards there was an increase in spending in bottle shops varying between 4%-24% increase when compared to the same week of the previous year. Spending on alcohol services (bars and clubs) declined until November 2020 when there was an increase compared to in the same weeks of the previous year. A few things to note is that this data was collected only up until February 2021, it was data from one bank, people are now encouraged to only use cards to pay for goods so there was fewer physical cash flow, and spending on alcohol doesn’t show us the exact consumption. In the same study according to survey results 1 in 5 adults said their alcohol consumption increased during Covid and of that almost half had an extra 1-2 drinks a week and 28% had an extra 3-4 drinks. More women also reported increasing their alcohol intake compared to men (18.1% compared to 15.5%).

People turn to alcohol to cope during tough times and use it to self-medicate when they feel like they can’t get help. So it's not surprising that drinking has increased during the pandemic. An example of this is this study looking at the increase in drinking in New York residents following 9/11. This was done over a 2-year period after the attacks, surveying the people twice. After the attacks happened 15% of the people, they surveyed met the requirements for binge drinking, 5% met alcohol dependence, 10% admitted to drinking an additional 4 or more days per month and 9% admitted to an increase of 2 or more drinks per day.

Alcohol can have varying side effects on the brain and body including the following:

  • At low doses: reduced anxiety, more likely to be impulsive.
  • At medium doses: sedation, reduced motor coordination.
  • At high doses: vomiting, memory impairments (partial and complete blackouts), loss of consciousness, coma.

Long term alcohol use can also cause liver damage, increase your risk of cancers and contribute to causing long term chronic illnesses such as diabetes. There are also reports of long-term excessive alcohol use causing permanent changes to the brain such as problems remembering, understanding, and thinking logically this is sometimes called alcohol-related brain damage. 

A drink now and then isn't going to cause damage but it's a good idea to keep track of your drinking habits during the ups and downs of Covid. If you notice you are depending on alcohol, thinking about it consistently and the amount and the frequency of what of you drink has increased. It might be worth taking a break from drinking and seeing how you feel.

Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Barty’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.


Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults 

Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, COVID-19 - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 

Alcohol Use, Mental Health Status and Psychological Well-being 2 Years After the World Trade Center Attacks in New York City


About Erin Fischer

Am the qualified mental health professional at Barty Single Origin. Write topical pieces with a focus on mental health. Always available on chat, Passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and letting people know it's A-OK to be not OK.


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