Big Alcohol lobbying and policy interference led many state governments in the United States to worsen their alcohol laws amng others by allowing alcohol home delivery. As a result, alcohol use increased in the U.S. and now the country is facing rising death and disease rates due to alcohol-related causes.

Worsening of alcohol policy by making alcohol much more available through allowing alcohol home delivery in many U.S. states has increased alcohol harm in the country. Nevertheless, many states have gone even further and made these harmful law changes regarding alcohol delivery permanent or extended them.

35 states introduced cocktails-to-go laws during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing pickup and home delivery of alcohol by on-premise alcohol sales places such as restaurants, bars, and pubs.

Out of these 35 states,

  • 18 states and Washington D.C. have made the weaker laws permanent, and
  • 14 states have extended the rules.
U.S. states have made COVID-19 era cocktails-to go permanent
Out of the 35 states that introduced cocktails-to-go laws during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing pickup and home delivery of alcohol by on-premise alcohol outlets, 18 states and Washington D.C. have made the worsened laws permanent.

Scientific studies have found that alcohol use increased in the U.S. among certain groups of people.

Big Alcohol products and practices drive rising alcohol harm

The two major reasons for this rise in alcohol use were,

  1. The alcohol industry’s pandemic-centric marketing, and
  2. Worsening of alcohol policy through Big Alcohol lobbying.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a prolonged traumatic event of unprecedented levels faced by humanity in recent years. As such many people are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, partly due to the virus itself and partly due to its consequences, such as changing work and learning environments, increased childcare, elder care responsibilities, homeschooling children, reduction in socializing, pay cuts, job loss, and threats to job security.

The alcohol industry has exploited these vulnerabilities of people to promote alcohol use as a coping mechanism. Doing so has led to higher profits for the industry at the cost of the health and well-being of people.

The alcohol industry did not stop at harmful pandemic marketing but also lobbied governments to weaken alcohol policies. “Cocktails-to-go” is a prime example of how the alcohol industry weakened alcohol policies in order to maximize profits.

Additionally, in the U.S., all but three of the 50 federal states gave liquor stores a lockdown exemption, many classifying the businesses – along with grocery stores and pharmacies – as a COVID-19 essential service. 

Worsening alcohol policies has long-term harmful impacts on Americans

A recent study found that 21% of the study participants who consumed alcohol in the past month in May 2020 had some alcohol delivered to them. Those who had alcohol delivered also reported higher levels of alcohol use.

Compared to participants who obtained alcohol in other ways, participants who got alcohol delivered,

  • consumed more alcohol units,
  • used alcohol on more days over the past month, and
  • were nearly two times more likely to report engaging in binge alcohol use.

There’s really strong science around increased availability leading to increased consumption and increased harm,” said Alicia Sparks, chair of the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance, as per PEW.

Alicia Sparks, chair of U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance

The alcohol industry is as usual shifting the responsibility for the harm caused by their products and practices. The alcohol lobby is trying to cast doubt about the rising alcohol use and harm during the pandemic. Big Alcohol is also making false claims about the effects of increasing alcohol availability through allowing home delivery. They ignore that reality that alcohol home delivery has made it extremely difficult to enforce underage alcohol use laws and protect children and youth.

Meanwhile, the wider health and social impact of worsened alcohol laws and rising alcohol use is now being felt all over the country.

A study published in JAMA Network found that alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. increased by about 25% from 2019 to 2020.

This rise in alcohol-related deaths is driving a decrease in life expectancy in the United States. In 2021 life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second consecutive year, a phenomenon that has not happened in a century.

Rise in alcohol deaths in the U.S. between 2019 and 2020
The number of deaths involving alcohol in the U.S. increased between 2019 and 2020 by 25.5% (from 78,927 to 99,017). The age-adjusted rate grew by 25.9% (from 27.3 to 34.4 per 100,000).

A rise in “deaths of despair” which include deaths driven by alcohol and other harmful substances and liver disease is adding to the decreasing life expectancy among Americans. Injuries, heart disease, and suicide are also contributing to the decline in life expectancy. Alcohol is a major risk factor for all these conditions.

One state that made cocktails-to-go a permeant fixture is Oregon. The policy change is now exacerbating the existing heavy toll alcohol is having on people and communities, according to Mike Marshall, executive director of Oregon Recovers, a nonprofit that works to increase access to treatment and recovery programs to fight addiction. The Oregon State Medical Examiner reports that alcohol-related deaths surged 73% from 2019 to 2020.

Simulations in one study published in the journal Addiction found that, if the increase in alcohol consumption observed in the U.S. in the first year of the pandemic continues, alcohol-related deaths, diseases, and associated costs will increase substantially over the next 5 years.

As per the study, short-term increases in alcohol consumption resulted in:

  • Loss of 79,000 QALYs,
  • 295,000 more alcohol-related hospitalizations, and
  • Additional $5.4 billion cost over 5 years. 

Officials in Oregon have launched a campaign to increase awareness among residents about alcohol content in various alcoholic beverages with the aim of reducing alcohol use. While this is a positive move it might be too little too late considering the state already worsened its alcohol laws to allow home delivery.

State governments must rethink making alcohol home delivery permanent. The federal government must step in to improve alcohol policies nationally in the United States such as by increasing alcohol taxes, a proven effective measure to prevent and reduce alcohol harm in the short- and long-term.


PEW: “Looser Liquor Laws Boosted Restaurants — and Maybe Problem Drinking

NPR: “Life expectancy in the U.S. continues to drop, driven by COVID-19