The effects of the growing alcohol epidemic in Spain have possibly been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Data show that alcohol use increased among vulnerable groups.
While overall alcohol use in Spain reduced between 2019 and 2020, consumption by some groups has increased. Data for 2021 is still not published but data from the Ministry of Health for 2020 show that the prevalence of alcohol consumption – among people between 15 to 64 years – decreased by almost five points to 57.3% in 2020.
Dr. Miguel Marcos, the coordinator of the Alcohol Working Group of the Spanish Society of Internal Medicine, says there are several limitations on how this data was obtained. The telephone study was conducted during the first part of the pandemic between November 10 and December 3, 2020. During this time, many on-premise alcohol outlets such as bars and restaurants were closed or had restrictions. Dr. Marcos says that Spanish people use alcohol more on-premise and therefore, consumption was reduced during the time of the study.
The latest European Health Survey in Spain, published by the National Institute of Statistics indicates that:
- The number of people over 15 years of age using alcohol daily dropped from 15.1% in 2014 to 12.6% in 2020.
- The number of people who engaged in binge alcohol use dropped from 9.1% in 2014 to 6% in 2020.
This survey is conducted every six years and there is still no data for 2021.
Alcohol problems possibly increased in Spain during the pandemic
The management of uncertainty in the pandemic and isolation has caused consumption to increase in some people,” said Alfonso Arana, president of the Proyecto Hombre Association, as per NIUS.Alfonso Arana, President, Proyecto Hombre Association
While the data show a reduction in alcohol use in Spain the situation regarding alcohol harm is different. For example, more people have been accessing support services and treatment for alcohol use problems. The Proyecto Hombre Association reports that of the 1523 requests for admission to recovery services at the beginning of June 2020, about 40% were related to alcohol use disorder. This is over 600 people.
There was a sudden rise in alcohol sales at the beginning of the pandemic and during lockdowns. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food reports that in the first week of April 2020 beer purchases increased by 86.5%, and purchases of liquor increased by 93.4% compared to the same time period in 2019. While the trend stabilized later on, the sudden rise in purchases signaled a problem.
The president of Proyecto Hombre, Alfonso Arana, says they observed two trends in alcohol use during the pandemic.
- Young people consuming alcohol rapidly in the de-escalation phase and beyond, including in 2021.
- Adults use alcohol in a sustained way over time during the pandemic.
The pandemic has taken a massive toll on people who are in recovery. Due to isolation, they have been cut off from connecting to others, a factor essential for healthy recovery. Some support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, could not hold meetings for a period of time in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic hit the hardest. This left people in recovery cut off from society and with no support. Anecdotal evidence shows that some relapsed due to the uncertainty and fear during the pandemic.
The toll of the pandemic on women
Arana notes that one of the groups where alcohol harm has increased is women. Proyecto Hombre has attended to women between 30 to 60 years with an average age of around 40 years during the pandemic.
Many times they [consume alcohol] in solitude, they are usually unemployed or in precarious jobs,” said Alfonso Arana, president of the Proyecto Hombre Association, as per NIUS.Alfonso Arana, President, Proyecto Hombre Association
They have seen women who are victims of gender-based violence accompanying their partner and perpetrator for treatment. They note men who perpetrate violence come for treatment for different reasons.
- Young single men with sporadic relationships seek treatment for alcohol use problems because of gender-based violence issues.
- Older adults who have caused violence come for treatment as they believe alcohol can be the origin of their violent behavior.
- There are others who come for treatment due to legal proceedings such as a judge sending them over.
Late last year, the Spanish government released the first-ever comprehensive report on alcohol consumption and harm. The report collected existing data in one place and aimed to provide analysis and high-quality information necessary to develop a multi-sectoral approach to prevent and reduce alcohol harm in Spain.