Drinking behavious during Covid-19

Australian Grape & Wine takes an evidence-based and balanced approach in its work relating to alcohol and health issues, focusing on targeted policy interventions to address harmful alcohol consumption.

We were therefore disappointed by a recent Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) report into drinking during the Covid-19 pandemic, which sought to tie an increase in the value of retail sales of alcohol with an increase in the overall amount of alcohol consumed in Australia.

While retail sales did increase during the course of the pandemic, this occurred in the context of the widespread and lengthy closure of businesses in the on-premise environment (eg. restaurants, pubs, cafes and clubs across the country), which clearly saw a significant reduction in sales through these channels.

Indeed, in the context of Covid-19, a recent ANU report indicated that:

  • More Australians reduced their drinking (27%) than those who have increased (20.2%).
  • The change was more pronounced among those who have reduced their drinking, with 12% of them saying that it decreased by a little, and 15% saying it decreased by a lot.
  • Of those whose drinking increased, just 3.5% said it had increased by a lot and 16.8% saying it increased by a little. For nearly half of those drinking more (45.8%), the increase had only been 1-2 standard drinks in a week.

And this occurred in the context of the positive trends Australia has seen in recent decades in relation to alcohol. The primary independent source for alcohol and health data is the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The AIHW data tells us that:

  • The vast majority (83.2%) of people drink moderately or abstain, a 4.2 percentage improvement from 2001 and the highest on record.
  • Australians are increasingly abstaining from alcohol altogether, with 20.9% of legal age drinkers choosing not to drink in the previous 12 months, a statistically significant increase from 2016 (19.5% abstainers).
  • Younger drinkers (people aged in their 20s) are drinking more responsibly than any generation before, with 62% consuming four standard drinks or less on one occasion in a month in 2019, compared to 49% in 2001.
  • 22% of people in their 20s are avoiding alcohol, compared to 8.9% in 2001.
  • 72% 14–17-year-olds have never had had a drink before turning 18, compared to 44% in 2001.
  • The age of initiation (first drink) has risen from 14.7 years old in 2001 to 2 years in 2019,

Clearly, there is more work to do to reduce harmful alcohol consumption in Australia, but it’s imperative that we get the facts right when considering these issues.

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