Global Drug Survey: Alcohol Use During COVID-19
Interim findings from the Global Drug Survey are providing timely insights into changes in alcohol and other drug use behaviour during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The preliminary Global Drug Survey findings indicates a trend: A majority of users have changed their alcohol use.
The Global Drug Survey (GDS) is an international web-based study that mainly maps the use and attitudes of the most resourceful psychoactive users of both alcohol and other drugs. It is not a representative sample in any way, but it is a large study in a specific target group. So far more than 74,000 people have responded.
There has been some discussion about what happens to alcohol use during the coronavirus pandemic and the extensive physical distancing periods.
On the one hand there’s the potential effect of declining consumption as people go out less often, are less social, feel less social pressure to consume alcohol, some might feel inclined to try and quit alcohol consumption and also people likely might limit their spending and expenses on alcohol. This can lead to a reduction of alcohol use. It means that both alcohol affordability (people’s willingness and capacity to spend on alcohol) and availability (access to alcohol retail outlets as well as willingness to leave home during self-isolation) are reduced.
On the other hand people have more time, less strict routines, experience more stress, uncertainty and anxiety and thus might start consuming alcohol earlier in the day, more frequently and more heavily and might use alcohol as coping tool; in addition, the alcohol industry is investing in aggressive marketing.
Research findings have pointed in slightly different directions, with some groups of people consuming more alcohol and other groups consuming less, with overall alcohol sales falling (examples: Sweden, Switzerland), but online trading and on-demand delivery spiking (example: Australia).
The preliminary GDS findings indicate two different trends. A majority of users have changed their alcohol use, one group consuming more and another group consuming less alcohol:
- Around 25% consume alcohol less frequently and 29.7% reported a reduction in binge alcohol use.
- Around 44% say they consume more alcohol.
The main reasons people give for increased alcohol use are:
- People have more time and they get bored.
- Some people say they consume more alcohol to keep up with their partner.
These results show that an increase in alcohol consumption during COVID-19 is not the norm, at least for the specific demographic that responds to the GDS. But the findings also show that the group of people reporting increasing amounts of alcohol use is seizable and that a new wave of alcohol problems might become a reality in the aftermath of the pandemic.