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Alcohol and Health

Pandemic Alcohol Home Delivery: Public Health Impacts

August 7, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 7, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 7, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 7, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 7, 2023
8 min read

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation suddenly locked down, bars and restaurants shuttered their doors, and people were indefinitely home-bound. With this abrupt shift in our day-to-day lives, many of us struggled to cope, and understandably so.

Unfortunately, this led a lot of us to maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as alcohol. In response, the convenience of home delivery of alcohol expanded, a quick and easy solution to help struggling businesses while enjoying a glass or two at home. However, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and it's crucial we take a closer look at the public health impact.

The Alcohol Home Delivery Surge

In the midst of the pandemic, home alcohol delivery made a striking leap. This term, often misunderstood, refers to the process of bars, restaurants, or retailers delivering alcohol to consumers' homes, using either their staff or third-party services like DoorDash or Uber Eats. Even before COVID-19, this service was already trending upwards across the United States. But the pandemic kicked things into overdrive.

A closer look at legal databases from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed some startling figures. In January 2020, a total of 21 states allowed home delivery of alcohol by retailers. Fast forward to January 2022, this number had risen to 38 states. Moreover, the number of states permitting home delivery of alcohol by restaurants or bars jumped from 23 to 39 states.

5 Pandemic alcohol home delivery's impact on public health

Increase in Alcohol Consumption and Binge Drinking

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a notable surge in alcohol sales. Initially, it was uncertain whether this increase was due to people stockpiling alcohol as a precautionary measure amid lockdowns and supply chain disruptions, or if it indicated a genuine uptick in alcohol consumption. However, as researchers delved deeper into this matter, a more worrisome pattern emerged.

A May 2020 online survey including adult participants from different regions of the U.S. gave insight into these consumption patterns, revealing a distinct trend. Adults who used delivery services to obtain alcohol reported higher levels of alcohol consumption compared to those who did not use such services. Additionally, the frequency of binge drinking, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL, was notably higher among the delivery-service users.

Adults who used delivery services consumed alcohol on more days per week than those who did not, and they consumed more drinks per drinking day. They were also more likely to engage in binge drinking at least once per week, compared to those who did not use delivery services.

This study raised important concerns about the potential implications of easier access to alcohol during lockdowns, especially in the form of delivery services. With the usual societal checks on drinking (like having to drive home or go to work the next day) removed, and increased stress due to the pandemic, there was a risk of escalating alcohol consumption and its associated harms. Further research would be necessary to confirm these initial findings and to develop effective strategies to mitigate these potential harms.

The Underestimated Impact on Public Health

While expanding home delivery laws may have been a lifeline for businesses, it appears the potential impact on public health was overlooked. As Elyse Grossman, a social and behavioral sciences administrator at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, recommends, it's vital that public health considerations are given more weight when states contemplate policy decisions that increase access to alcohol.

Moreover, the researchers raise concerns about the potential impact on young people’s drinking habits. The surge in home alcohol delivery could have inadvertently made alcohol more accessible to underage drinkers. This is a hypothesis that urgently needs further research, given that delivery drivers often don't check IDs.

Concluding Thoughts

The findings we've presented here are still in the preliminary stages and need to be corroborated by peer-reviewed research. However, they offer us a vital perspective on how policy decisions, though seemingly beneficial, can have unforeseen consequences.

The spike in home delivery of alcohol during the pandemic, while offering a lifeline to businesses and convenience to consumers, might have inadvertently escalated health risks. Going forward, we need to balance business and consumer needs with public health considerations.

On an individual level, we can be mindful of our alcohol consumption overall. Though a home delivery may feel tempting, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Is this what I really need right now?” Chances are, we are looking to cope with stress or boredom, in which case, there are plenty of alcohol-free activities to turn to instead. It’s a matter of training our minds to find healthier coping strategies. Though it may feel challenging in the beginning, over time, it’ll become second nature. Here’s to healthier habits!

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