Watching Catherine McGregor chatting with psychologist Dr Tanveer Ahmed on Sky Australia (People will have to ‘rethink’ New Year goals as a result of COVID-19 uncertainty), I remembered that many of my friends have been coping with COVID-related stress by substantially increasing their alcohol consumption. This is a general phenomenon across the community, not just among my friends, as evidenced by survey data (e.g. Alcohol consumption rises in Australia as COVID pandemic continues) and retail turnover data, which show a huge spike in liquor sales at bottle shops in 2020 (see chart below, noting SA stands for seasonally adjusted).
There was some substitution from liquor which would otherwise have been purchased at restaurants and pubs (see chart below), of course, but it appears very likely alcohol consumption has increased.
Indeed, ABS National Accounts data up to September quarter confirm substantially higher consumption expenditure on alcoholic beverages in 2020 (see chart below).
Clearly, it’s a challenging time for people’s mental health, but experience and evidence suggest higher alcohol consumption is undesirable. In his report Bingeing, collateral damage and the benefits and costs of taxing alcohol rationally for FARE in 2012, Dr John Marsden of Marsden Jacob (my employer at the time) wrote:
Alcohol brings substantial pleasure to consumers…However, alcohol also brings major costs to drinkers, others in proximity and to broader society. The full range of costs to society as a whole includes health harms from over 50 cancers, absenteeism, workplace accidents and productivity loss across the economy, motor vehicle accidents and a wide range of harms to others.
If someone gets around to doing a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of Australia’s COVID response, they ought to consider any long-term damage resulting from Australians upping their booze consumption this year.
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