Study Shows an Increasing Trend of At-Home Drinking During COVID-19 Pandemic

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a new study indicates that home drinking has increased in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, with alcohol retail store sales increasing during the months of March 2020 to September 2020 compared to its usual trend. The findings were published in the journal Alcohol.

To conduct this study, researchers analyzed alcohol retail store sales data of beer, wine, and liquor store (BWLS) purchases from January 1992 to September 2020 from the Monthly Retail Trade Survey; a survey which provides sales estimates at retail and food locations. The investigators used alcohol sales changes during the COVID pandemic as an indicator of at-home drinking.

According to the results, there was an appreciable increase in retail alcohol sales during the beginning of the pandemic, an increase which plateaued in the third quarter of 2020. Specifically, from March 2020 to September 2020, there were 41.9 billion dollars in liquor store sales, equating to an increase of 20% and 18% compared to the same period in 2019, and the previous seven-month period, respectively. Conversely, the results showed that food and drinking place retail sales decreased by 27% from March to September 2020.

“Our results appear to substantiate an increase in home drinking during the period, which could potentially lead to higher alcohol consumption and alcohol-related adverse health outcomes,” said João Mauricio Castaldelli-Maia, MD, PhD, NIDA-INVEST Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School, and first author via a press release.

A Concerning Trend

The researchers worry that excessive home drinking could be a coping mechanism to deal with stress related quarantine, and worries about an uncertain future. Moreover, drinking at home has been linked with domestic violence.

“During the pandemic, increases in alcohol use at home could potentially exacerbate the effects of social isolation on domestic violence,” suggests Castaldelli-Maia. “For example, U.S. police department data illustrates that there was a 10-27 percent increase in calls concerning domestic violence during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders across diverse locations in the country — from Alabama and Texas to Oregon and New York, although it is unclear whether home drinking played a role in such outcomes.”

 

“While there is still much left to understand about alcohol use behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe it’s important to make more aggressive efforts to warn the population about the risks associated with increased home alcohol consumption during a pandemic,” said Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School, and senior author. “It is also important to investigate alcohol use behaviors among individuals at high risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2 such as frontline workers and among those living alone for longer isolation periods.”