Fall in alcohol consumption has been “lost in the pandemic”

14 August, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

Industry associations have questioned the true scope of a new health survey commissioned by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF), which suggests that “one in five Australians wish they had drunk less alcohol during the COVID-19 lockdown”.

The online survey of 1,000 Australians was conducted from 22-23 July, and measured changes in alcohol consumption before, during and after lockdown; and the factors that drove those changes.

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The survey cites that increased alcohol consumption had, “negatively impacted on the adoption of healthy behaviours during lockdown”. Showing that 30 per cent had exercised less, 15 per cent had increased snacking and 19 per cent were sleeping less.

The release of the data comes as the ADF launches a new national health campaign, Break the Habit, revealing that it takes on average only around 66 days to form a habit – roughly the same amount of time many Australians spent in lockdown.

The campaign video features a ‘creature’ representing the little habit of drinking more than usual that some Australians picked up during lockdown. The campaign encourages people to consider their recent drinking patterns, to help them recognise any problem signs and what to do to turn them around.

But a closer look at the results of the ADF survey show that just 12 per cent of respondents had increased their drinking during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns.

Overall, it found that 20 per cent of Australians drank less during lockdowns and four per cent stopped drinking altogether.

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) and the Liquor Stores Association of Western Australia (LSA WA) both agree that the fall in alcohol consumption has been “lost during the pandemic”.

ABA CEO, Andrew Wilsmore, said: “The ADF tactic of conveniently underplaying that significantly more Australians reduced their consumption than increased it, and using draft drinking guidelines for a three-day a week drinker as a measure of risky drinking across a seven-day week adds to the growing list of over-hyped and, frankly, dodgy polls being bandied around that simply do not stack up to scrutiny.

“They do Australians, who have clearly heeded the responsible consumption message, no favours in falsely vilifying them. Rather, Australians have earned a pat on the back.”

While LSA WA CEO, Peter Peck, said: “It has been well documented during the last decade the trend in alcohol consumption has been going down, not up.

“What concerns me about the ADF survey is, why are people turning to alcohol? What are these public healthy lobby groups doing with all the funding provided by different state and federal agencies?

“If the ADF is suggesting a small sample of 1,000 people is cause for alarm, I would question where their campaign focus has been prior and during COVID-19.

“I think what’s been lost here is that alcohol consumption in Australia has dropped to its lowest level in 50 years and alcohol sales have hit an all-time low.”

The survey also highlighted that people in Western Australia were the most likely to cite stress or anxiety as a reason for increased alcohol consumption during the lockdown (45 per cent), twice as likely as those in Queensland (24 per cent) – and this was a concern for the LSA, with Peck calling for an audit of state and federal funding used for health promotion of the clinical services, to ensure it was being spent effectively.

“What are the KPI’s attached to the funding and how do these agencies measure their outcomes? That is what nobody knows,” he said.

Peck said if a small fraction of the population was reportedly drinking more in a pandemic, it was somewhat understandable, but not excusable.

“We’re all going through a tough time. Have a drink but do it respectfully. The reality is, often, people who drink more are trying to cope with trauma in their life and it becomes a coping mechanism.”

Peck urged all agencies, state and federal to work together to tackle the root of the problem and identify where clinical services failed to be accessed.