The products and practices of the alcohol industry during COVID-19, including heavy pandemic-centric marketing and relentless lobbying to weaken existing alcohol laws, fuelled a rise in alcohol use in many countries and its resulting harms, including an increase in alcohol use problems.
The rise in alcohol use problems including alcohol use disorders, dependence, and addictions has increased the demand for treatment and support services. However, many countries are struggling to meet this demand due to a lack of services and reduced capacities in existing services due to the pandemic.
A new survey found that in the United States 43% of adults who say they needed substance use or mental health care in the past 12 months did not receive the care they needed. Meanwhile, in Australia, the number of calls to the National Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Hotline has tripled since the pandemic began. Many of these people are calling due to an alcohol problem. Alcohol use accounts for a third of all AOD treatment in Australia.
Similar trends in rising alcohol problems and higher demand for alcohol support services have also been seen in Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other European countries since the pandemic began. Spain has specifically observed an increase in alcohol problems among women. In the UK, funding cuts to mental health and addiction services have exacerbated the problem and put children in households with alcohol problems in harm’s way.
Meanwhile in India heavy alcohol use by a smaller proportion of the population has increased during the pandemic. The need for alcohol support services was already dire in India before the pandemic. A 2019 report by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment reported that every third alcohol user in India needs help for alcohol-related problems. However, only about 1 in 38 people with alcohol dependence, report getting any treatment or help with alcohol problems.
It is crucial that governments invest in alcohol policy solutions while increasing funding for alcohol support services. There is promising research that brief interventions delivered in general medical settings or primary care can reduce alcohol use problems. If demand for support services continues to increase services will not be able to keep up. Hence, policy solutions to prevent alcohol use problems are a necessity. The World Health Organization’s recommended best buys of limiting availability, increasing prices, and banning alcohol ads, sponsorship, and promotions are cost-effective, high-impact, proven alcohol policy solutions to prevent alcohol harm and protect people’s health and well-being.