The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sharp focus to the importance of population health. Healthier populations have been able to survive the pandemic far better than others. Unhealthy commodities such as alcohol play a role in today’s population health. Unfortunately during the pandemic Australians have increased alcohol use. This has lead to compounding negative consequences.
As Movendi International followed, in 2020 Australian alcohol sale and use increased sharply.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that alcohol retail sales increased by 27% between 2019 and 2020, growing by $3.3 billion.
- Roy Morgan reported, a 7.9% increase in online alcohol sale in Australia.
- In 2020, for the first time in four years the number of Australians consuming alcohol increased. An additional 316,000 Australians consumed alcohol in 2020 compared to 2019.
Australia has been seeing the negative consequences of this rise in alcohol use over time. Family violence services are seeing an increase in alcohol-related family violence. Alcohol and other drug treatment services are also seeing more people reach out for help with alcohol.
Now a latest research from Turning Point and Monash University has found alcohol-related ambulance callouts to homes increased in 2020. This shows that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions for bars, restaurants and other on-premise alcohol outlets, alcohol harm has shifted to Australian homes. The shift is specially concerning considering the increased exposure to alcohol harm children could be facing.
- Between January 2019 and September 2020 a total of 43,003 alcohol-related ambulance callouts occurred.
- Alcohol-related callouts to the home (as opposed to outside the home) jumped 60 to 81%, from the start of the pandemic to the tail end of the state’s protracted lockdown last year.
- In socioeconomically advantaged areas the percentage increase was higher at 11.9%.
- Comparatively, there was a 5.2% increase in the lowest socioeconomic group.
- People in 30s were also hard hit by alcohol harm. Call-outs increased between 18 and 45% in the middle of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019.
Unethical alcohol marketing and increased availability during COVID-19
While discussing the reasons for the increased alcohol harm at homes during the pandemic, study co-author Professor Dan Lubman said the alcohol norm, promoting alcohol as coping mechanism and the increased availability through online sale all led to the problem.
Having alcohol at the end of the day has often been promoted as a reward and a way of coping, with ready access to alcohol in stores and through online delivery throughout the pandemic,” said Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point and study co-author, as per Monash University News.
Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point and study co-author
The pandemic has caused many stressful consequences to people. Specifically to parents who have to home-school kids while managing work from home or job loss. Some have to care for elderly parents or are unable to reach their family and friends. All of these stressors have made people vulnerable. The alcohol industry has exploited this vulnerability to promote alcohol as a coping mechanism and make alcohol more available. This has led more people to turn to alcohol instead of healthier coping methods.
People who are suffering from an alcohol addiction faced further challenges during the pandemic. Targeted advertising showing ads for online sale and delivery of alcohol is especially triggering to these people. Added to this many of those who sought treatment for addiction faced disruptions to their care during the pandemic.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) have called out the industry on their predatory alcohol marketing during the pandemic which pushes people to consume more alcohol in a bid to maximize profits.
During COVID-19 we’ve seen alcohol retailers and online delivery companies engage in prolific marketing that promotes using alcohol as a way to cope during the pandemic,” said Caterina Giorgi, Chief Executive of FARE, as per Yahoo News.Caterina Giorgi, chief executive, FARE
Research by FARE and the Cancer Council WA found that Australians were exposed to an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram.
The alcohol industry perversely used the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis as the largest global marketing campaign to drive consumption even higher and increase their profits at the cost of people’s health and well-being.
Urgent government action needed to protect Australian people from harm caused by products and practices of the alcohol industry
Professor Lubman is concerned that while there is a lot of focus on public health measures and financial support during lockdowns, there has been relative silence on the dangers of using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcohol outlets remained open and home deliveries continued during lockdown.
Communities backed by public health advocates are calling on the Australian government to implement the following policy solutions to safeguard citizens from Big Alcohol’s practices:
- Improving the rules around the currently largely unregulated alcohol marketing,
- Limiting late night and rapid online alcohol delivery, and
- Boosting investment in alcohol and other drug services to help reduce alcohol-fuelled harm.
Monash University News: “Study shows COVID-19 restrictions leads to increased alcohol-related harms“