Alcohol use at home was a routinely overlooked phenomenon till the pandemic started and its problematic features were brought into focus. But it is not a problem that just started with the pandemic. In Australia even before COVID-19, over half (56%) of risky alcohol use took place inside homes.
The pandemic was a challenging time for many. Adding to the anxiety of being infected with the coronavirus people had to deal with its other consequences, such as making ends meet, pay cuts, job loss, switching to work from home, and added childcare, and/or eldercare responsibilities. Big Alcohol exploited people’s vulnerabilities during the public health crisis ruthlessly with a barrage of pandemic-centric marketing, including promoting alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Reasons for rising alcohol use during COVID-19
In Australia, it appears Big Alcohol’s exploitation of people’s vulnerabilities during the pandemic has worked for the alcohol industry. Latest survey data from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) show that 25% of Australians are now consuming more alcohol than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new study, conducted by researchers at La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR), sought to find the reasons why people consume more alcohol when they are at home. The researchers did a qualitative study with in-depth interviews of 40 participants from around Australia, who were between 30 and 65 years old and reported using alcohol at home at least once a week.
The researchers found:
- Half of the participants had less than 14 standard units of alcohol per week (within the Australian low-risk guidelines).
- The other half of the participants had at least 35 units of alcohol per week at home.
- Common reasons why people were using alcohol at home included:
- Marking the end of the day,
- A way to enjoy being with family and friends, and
- Specific reasons by those who were using alcohol heavily:
- To smooth over dissatisfaction with close relationships at home, and
- Relaxing – unwinding from work or parenting duties.
Participants found that getting intoxicated at home was cheaper and easier.
- Alcohol was more affordable,
- There were fewer social constraints,
- People did not feel judged, and
- There was no need to find ways to get home.
The easy and cheap availability of alcohol and the lack of social control around alcohol was a major reason for increased alcohol use.
Home delivery of alcohol meant there were really no limits to how much they could [use alcohol] at home … and it arrives cheaply and quickly,” said Sarah MacLean, associate professor at the La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, the lead author of the study.Sarah MacLean, associate professor, La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research
On-demand alcohol delivery coupled with pandemic marketing and weakening of alcohol laws in Australian states and territories is making people more susceptible to using alcohol more heavily. Thus, increasing consumption and long-term harm for Australian citizens.
On-demand alcohol delivery is a serious problem for the health and well-being of people and communities
The boom in online alcohol sales and delivery in Australia means that anyone including those under the legal age limit for buying alcohol as well as people experiencing alcohol problems can get as much alcohol delivered, as fast to their doorstep as possible.
The harm caused by these delivery services is real and tangible. Last year, “Jimmy Brings Alcohol” – an alcohol delivery service owned by Endeavour Group, promising alcohol delivery within 30 minutes was being investigated for the death of one of their customers.
- Jimmy Brings delivered almost three bottles of wine every day to the 49-year-old man living in Bondi in the weeks before he died, including two identical orders placed 10 minutes apart.
- The Liquor and Gaming Authority of New South Wales (NSW) started an investigation of the alcohol delivery service for breaking the responsible service laws of the state.
There are serious loopholes in the alcohol delivery laws in Australia. A review of more than 200 online alcohol delivery services in 2018, conducted by researchers from Northern Sydney Local Health District, found:
- Only 5% included a policy on their website relating to the delivery of goods to an already intoxicated person, and
- 60% did not require a customer to prove they were aged 18 years or older.
Big Alcohol and crisis washing
The alcohol industry is exploiting the pandemic by ‘crisis washing’ to market their products even more and increase their profits through accelerating alcohol consumption. This rising consumption comes at a high price for people and communities in Australia.
The alcohol industry’s pandemic exploitation was exposed in a report by the SPECTRUM research consortium entitled “Signalling Virtue, Promoting Harm: Unhealthy commodity industries and COVID-19“. The report outlined four main strategies health harmful industries, such as Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol are using:
- Pandemic-tailored marketing campaigns and stunts,
- Corporate social responsibility programs,
- Fostering partnerships with governments, international agencies and NGOs, and
- Shaping policy environments.
Another report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Cancer Council WA found that the average Australian on social media is exposed to an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds.
Weakening alcohol laws
While ‘crisis washing’ and increasing the on-demand delivery of alcohol products, the alcohol industry subversively lobbied to weaken alcohol laws during the pandemic. Even now, Big Alcohol is lobbying for tax breaks in Australia, citing the pandemic.
Some Australian state governments are planning to make the temporary measures applied to alcohol sales during the pandemic and lockdowns permanent fixtures in the law. For example, the New South Wales government plans to make takeaway alcohol permanent. Some restaurants have started selling takeaway alcohol in sachet-like plastic bags.
But Big Alcohol has a lethal interaction with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Alcohol increases the health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have been COVID-19 super spreader events.
- Alcohol increases the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already stretched due to COVID-19.
- The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws for their private benefit.