More Australians drinking less during COVID-19

11 June, 2020 by Brydie Allen

This week the Australian National University (ANU) released a report about changes in alcohol consumption from before and during the pandemic. 

A media release announcing the report stated that Australians are drinking more frequently during the pandemic than ever before. However, Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) have said the research itself actually tells a very different story. 

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Andrew Wilsmore, ABA CEO said: “The ANU survey results show that more Australians have reduced their drinking (27 per cent) than those who have increased (20.2 per cent). And the change is more pronounced among those who have reduced their drinking, with 12 per cent of them saying that it decreased by a little, and 15.0 per cent saying it decreased by a lot.”

“Of those whose drinking increased, just 3.5 per cent said it had increased by a lot and 16.8 per cent saying it increased by a little. For nearly half of those drinking more (45.8 per cent), the increase had only been one to two standard drinks in a week.”

However, Co-author of the study, Professor Nicholas Biddle of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, said: “In general, people are more likely to say their alcohol consumption has decreased rather than increased in these types of surveys… Even so, we found self-reported increases in alcohol consumption were larger than in surveys prior to COVID-19.”

The media release also described how the study found drinking was “slightly higher for males” and “substantially higher for females”. 

Wilsmore described the numbers themselves and said: “For males, 23.7 per cent said their alcohol consumption had decreased, and 15.5 per cent of the total sample said their alcohol consumption increased.

“For females, 21.2 per cent said their alcohol consumption had increased, compared to 18.1 per cent of the sample who said their consumption had decreased.”

Considering the data and findings throughout the report, ABA describes ANU’s media release headline as incorrect to say that ‘alcohol consumption increases during COVID-19 crisis.’

Wilsmore quoted the ANU report itself, which says that: “this provides reasonably strong evidence that people do not feel that their alcohol consumption has increased since the spread of COVID-19”.

“This final point highlights the need to ask balanced questions, rather than just asking for changes in one direction, as has been reported in the media from other surveys during the COVID-19 pandemic.”