COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the lives of people around the globe. From our day to day lives, to the way we work, to our mental and physical health, and to our social interactions, COVID-19 has changed how we live. For some, it’s also changed the way they consume alcohol.
There have been a variety of organisations collecting data to try and determine if and how alcohol consumption and purchasing has changed for Australians due to COVID-19. Overall, the results have indicated that, yes, consumption and purchasing of alcohol has changed for Australians, but the changes might surprise you.
Data from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia found that although total spending on alcohol increased in March 2020 (most likely due to people stockpiling alcohol in anticipation that bottle shops may close), the pattern reversed in April 2020. While the sale of alcohol did see some similar influxes throughout 2020 (often coinciding with the easing and reinstating of restrictions), overall, alcohol producers and distributors reported declines in the total volume of alcohol sold in April and May 2020 when compared with the previous year.
Another survey, the 24th ANUpoll, collected information between the 12th and 24th of May 2020 which showed that 1 in 5 respondents reported an increase of alcohol consumption with almost half of those having had an extra 1-2 drinks per week. Similarly, in the ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey (conducted between the 29th of April and the 4th of May 2020), 14.4% said their alcohol consumptions had increased while 47.1% said it had not changed, 9.5% said it had decreased and 28.9% did not consume alcohol. So, although it would seem that COVID-19 has caused people to increase their alcohol consumption, these surveys only focused on a very small window of time during the pandemic.
The UNSW conducted a longitudinal study of drinking behaviours in NSW associated with lockdown measures. They looked at Pre-lockdown, Wave 1 (NSW lockdown) and Wave 2 (easing of restrictions). They also examined the extent to which these changes have been sustained post-lockdown.
For the majority of participants who reported an increase in consumption during Wave 1 (NSW lockdown), they returned to a level of consumption that was similar to pre-lockdown during Wave 2 (easing of restrictions).
For those that reported a decrease in consumptions during Wave 1, 47% remained at that level during Wave 2 and 41% increased their consumption at Wave 2. The full effects and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on alcohol consumption are still unknown, but from preliminary findings, we can see that although there were fluctuations in consumption, the majority of people either returned to their usual level of consumption or decreased their level of consumption.
When it came to young people (18- to 24-year-olds), the UNSW found that they were the group most likely to reduce their alcohol intake. With the closure of licensed venues, young people ended up reducing their consumption rather than consuming alcohol at home.
One 23-year-old female respondent said, “I’d say I just pretty much completely stopped drinking, because I only usually drink on special occasions or social settings. I pretty much didn’t drink at all”.
How does this translate to young people below the age of 18? We can assume much the same for 14-17-year-olds. They’re most likely consuming alcohol in social settings or for social reasons, rather than consuming alcohol alone or at home.
COVID-19 has more than likely brought about a reduction in alcohol consumption for 14- to 17-year-olds as well.
How then can we best support young people through this pandemic in regards to alcohol consumption? Encounter Youth believes in alerting, informing and empowering young people to bring about safer more meaningful celebrations. When we encourage young people and inform them that the majority of their peers are making great choices around alcohol and other drugs, they feel empowered and comfortable to do the same. When young people are educated about the facts and risks associated with alcohol and other drugs, this also empowers them to make the choices that are right for them.
During these challenging times, we encourage families to educate themselves on the facts around alcohol and other drugs as well as keeping an open line of communication to openly discuss these topics.
We would encourage young people to ask questions and stay informed about how to keep themselves and their mates safe. Visit our Young People Resources page to find out more.
We’d also encourage parents and family members to seek out the facts about alcohol and other drugs as well as facilitate honest conversations around the topic in their household. Visit our Parent Resources page to find out more.