COVID and alcohol – what’s the story?

Australians are drinking more alcohol since COVID began. Not surprisingly, this is resulting in more alcohol-related harms. Credit Ed Dunens

Since March 2020, when COVID restrictions started coming into force and lockdowns began to be part of the vernacular,  there’s been a lot of speculation about Aussie’s drinking habits. Would we start drinking more, would there be more alcohol-related harms and what would be the impact?

Recently, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) looked at these very questions and instead of speculation used facts to determine what has happened to our alcohol habits in a COVID world.

Here are some of the most interesting results:

  • Young people actually drank less alcohol. Their consumption dropped by 17 per cent. The biggest change in this group was those who were drinking heavily before COVID. While the drinking habits of light and moderate drinkers didn’t change much, heavy drinkers did reduce their alcohol intake. Why? The key reason researchers found is that generally young people drink outside the home, when socialising with friends.
  • For the general population, however, the picture is not quite as rosy, as they bought and drank more alcohol. Some researchers point out that some of the alcohol was perhaps not consumed – it was a result of panic buying early in the pandemic.
  • A Foundation for Alcohol Research and Evaluation survey found 20 per cent of households reported that they bought more alcohol than usual.
  • The same survey found that 14 per cent of households were drinking daily, a significant 3-times increase on a January 2020 survey.
  • Another survey found that 1 out of 5 people admitted to drinking more during the pandemic. Women were more likely to have increased their drinking than men.
  • A YouGov survey found that nearly one in seven (13%) Australian drinkers were concerned about the amount of alcohol they or someone in their household were drinking
  • The same survey found that 11% of people admitted to drinking to cope with anxiety and stress, and 14% admitted to drinking daily.
  • Data from Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Report showed a four per cent increase in the number of people who drank alcohol in the 2020/2021 year. Nearly 70 per cent of people consumed alcohol at some stage during the year, up from 65.7% a year earlier.

So, it seems that overall, Australians have upped their alcohol consumption since COVID-19 hit around March last year. Not surprisingly, this has led to some less than pleasant harm statistics:

  • Once the pandemic started, alcohol-related ambulance attendance rates in Victoria in 2020 jumped by a significant nine per cent.
  • Interestingly, while lower socioeconomic areas recorded the highest number of alcohol-related call-outs, the biggest increase was for call-outs in the highest socioeconomic areas.
  • Not surprisingly, the highest number of alcohol-related harms were reported by people who drink heavily. These are also people are more likely to be vulnerable to catching COVID, due to compromised respiratory and immune systems.
  • There has been an increase in mental health issues in Australia, with much of the blame levelled at alcohol consumption and COVID by researchers.

Another thing we should say is that while it appears, fingers crossed, that we are past the worst of the COVID crisis, the long-term impacts of our increased alcohol consumption aren’t fully yet realised.

We could say that this is a story to be continued…

NOTE: For full ADF article see their website.


Australians are drinking more alcohol since COVID began. Not surprisingly, this is resulting in more alcohol-related harms. Credit Ed Dunens

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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