COVID‐19 makes a stronger research focus on home drinking more important than ever
Over the past few decades, enormous research effort has been devoted to understanding alcohol use in licensed venues such as bars, clubs and pubs. However, long-term harms from alcohol are less influenced by environmental factors such as alcohol use location than short-term harms. For example, in Australia, 63% of all alcohol is consumed in the alcohol user’s own home, with a further 13% in other people’s homes. This compares to 12% in pubs, bars and nightclubs. Corresponding Figures in Scotland are similar, 73% of alcohol is sold for consumption off-premise. Therefore, in countries where alcohol is mostly consumed within homes, most of the long-term harm is caused by at home alcohol use.
It is reported that in Australia 56% of all alcohol consumption in the user’s own home was found to be above and beyond the average of two standard units of alcohol per day (20 g ethanol), the limit set in the current National Health and Medical Research Council long-term risk guidelines. With COVID-19 many governments ordered people to stay at home which would mean alcohol consumption would happen only at home.
Social scientists have argued that policy responses emerge through dominant public understandings of any problem. The alcohol problem is currently understood as a problem with public alcohol use. Therefore, most attention has been to reduce and control alcohol in public spaces and licensed outlets. Far less attention has been paid at policy mechanisms to control at home alcohol use. Several examples include,
- the difficulty with enforcing compliance with licensing conditions for alcohol delivery services,
- efforts to reduce alcohol use among young people are more accepted than reduce at home alcohol use of older people, and
- “seemingly” home alcohol use does not threaten social order.
Most of the existing scientific literature on at home alcohol use is about the practice of young people consuming alcohol before going to a Night Time economy (NTE) place such as nightclubs, pubs and bars. However, there are far more reasons for consuming alcohol at home ranging from convenience, cost and safety to childcare.
Home alcohol use has become habitual and a routine and synonymous with adult relaxation time. There is little research on how consuming alcohol at home affects people and about at home alcohol use patterns . Many current alcohol control policy measures does not affect at home alcohol use making it a “blind spot” for alcohol control policy.
Research to determine the link between home alcohol use and both price and off-premise availability, and the effects of responses such as these, should be a priority.
Specifically with COVID-19 and restrictions to movement as well as physical distancing measures have led countries to take various policy measures to control alcohol ranging from increased taxes and reduced availability to deeming alcohol ‘essential’, allowing for alcohol delivery and making it more available. The current research base about at home alcohol use is insufficient to address the problem.
The researchers make two points:
- Call for greater research attention to home alcohol use, in order to instate it as an issue that warrants sustained policy focus.
- Related to the first, the urgency of doing so has never been greater.