A Focus on Alcohol and COVID-19: Is There a Connection?

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There’s no shortage of rumors and myths making the rounds during this time of coronavirus and some of them involve alcohol. Some people seem to think that alcohol has particularly helpful applications at this time. Scientists are warning that alcohol can be dangerous if used the wrong way. Let’s sort out which of these ideas are true by looking at some of the facts.

Alcohol Sales Higher

Are people drinking more alcohol during this unusual period of time? It’s actually a hard point to analyze. Because bars in restaurants and taverns are closed, anyone who wants to drink must purchase bottled products and drink them at home. Understandably, online sales of alcohol have soared.

Between the beginning of March and April 18, online sales were 234% of the sales from the same time period a year ago. The average value of online orders has also increased significantly. Some of this growth was attributed to people stocking up their pantries so they have supplies to last them through the end of any quarantine period.

It’s very likely that many or most of these people may have done their drinking in bars before they were told to shelter at home. For that reason, it’s difficult to determine if individuals are actually drinking much more than they normally would.

Of course, the possibility exists that some people will stock their pantries but, given their boredom and frustration resulting from staying at home all day, may consume more alcohol each day than usual. In early April 2020, the World Health Organization recommended that governments restrict access to alcohol so as to limit the damage that could be done to individuals. In Russia, some districts have done just that, restricting their sales to limited hours or banning sales entirely until various dates in May.

The Effects of Increased Alcohol Consumption During Quarantine

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Of course, any effects of excessive alcohol consumption extend far beyond the individual doing the drinking. An article in the New York Times documented increases in domestic violence and child abuse around the world. UNICEF noted that Greenland and South Africa have restricted alcohol sales in an effort to reduce violence in quarantined homes.

Unfortunately, battered women’s shelters are poorly equipped to take in women during this pandemic. Some phone lines to assist abused women are closed down. But in some countries like Canada, Austria and Germany, governments have taken action to increase resources and protection for women in this situation.

Alcohol vs. Immunity

This is one area where the effects of alcohol consumption are easy to see. Too much alcohol consumption is not a good thing during a COVID-19 quarantine or any time.

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol is associated with a very long list of ailments and serious health conditions. According to the World Health Organization, heavy drinkers experience higher incidence of injuries, digestive diseases, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases and several types of cancers. This is not a good time to be diagnosed with any of these illnesses or to become injured. Cutting down or eliminating alcohol consumption begins to improve a person’s chance of avoiding these problems.
  • A 2015 study of alcohol’s effects on the drinker’s immunity was extremely clear:
    “Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia…this association has been expanded to a greater likelihood of acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS)… and slower and less complete recovery from infection and physical trauma, including poor wound healing.”

    You may recall that it is normally ARDS that causes COVID-19 patients to be placed on ventilators to assist their breathing.

  • Alcohol depletes the body of many vital nutrients needed to stay healthy and fight disease. Specifically, zinc, folic acid, vitamins A and C and the B complex vitamins. The less alcohol that’s consumed, the more the body can hold onto these nutrients and fight any infective influence in the environment.

Sobriety is more important now than ever. Most rehabs are still accepting individuals for rehabilitation, with more initial screening, naturally. Don’t wait to get help for yourself or someone you care about. Helping someone get started on their rehabilitation could be life-saving for them or could greatly improve conditions in their home for themselves and family members.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.