Data Now Suggests Home Delivery of Alcohol During Pandemic Created Permanent, Long-Term Harm
Recent findings show home delivery of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic was likely connected to a spike in binge drinking and other alcohol-related harm during that time and in the years since.
What the Findings Show
Social and behavioral sciences researchers at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) sought to analyze how home delivery of alcohol may have influenced drinking trends during and after the pandemic. The researchers began by defining terms. “‘Home delivery’ refers to when restaurants, bars, or retailers use their own employees or a third-party delivery system such as DoorDash or Uber Eats to deliver alcohol to consumers’ homes,” says Elyse Grossman, a researcher at NIDA who was involved in the study. The next step was to determine shifts in home deliveries during the pandemic. “Although the number of states that allowed home delivery was already trending upwards during the last two decades, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased these numbers,” said Grossman. Grossman went on to show how, in January 2020, just 21 states permitted home delivery of alcohol. By January 2022, 39 states permitted such deliveries.
In addition to examining state-level policies around alcohol home delivery, Grossman’s team also interviewed residents of states that allowed for home delivery during the pandemic. According to a survey of 838 people, Grossman’s team found that Americans who ordered alcohol via home delivery during the pandemic also reported “consuming significantly more alcohol and binge drinking significantly more often than participants who did not obtain their alcohol through [home] delivery.” Though the alcohol home delivery laws passed during the pandemic were intended to help struggling businesses, it seems a harmful side effect was more Americans drinking far more alcohol than they had before.
“ It is important that public health be given greater weight when states are considering policy decisions which increase access to alcohol.”
Further, while the researchers could not prove direct harm to adolescents, the researchers did raise the alarm on what alcohol home delivery could have done to young people during and after the pandemic. Again quoting Grossman, “Although we did not examine youth drinking habits – given the increase in access to alcohol for youth via expanded home delivery laws, and the fact that retailers and third-party delivery drivers often do not check IDs – we hypothesize that youth drinking habits were probably also negatively impacted by expanded home delivery laws and strongly urge future research in this area.” According to 2021 data published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 5.9 million American adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20 consume alcohol at least once per month.
The policy prescription offered by the NIDA researchers is a simple one. “In the future, it is important that public health be given greater weight when states are considering policy decisions which increase access to alcohol,” said Grossman. Indeed, states should consider the health of their residents as the prime mandate of all legislation. Legislation that supports businesses is generally a good thing, but not if it comes at the expense of the health of residents.
A Change in Policy is Needed
Though the study cited above has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is not the only study to have arrived at similar conclusions about alcohol home delivery. A broader study analyzing the health impacts of on-demand food and alcohol delivery services during the pandemic found that:
- On-demand delivery broadened consumer access to unhealthy food and alcohol.
- On-demand delivery of alcohol was likely to increase alcohol-related harm from excessive drinking.
- On-demand access to food and alcohol presented multi-layered problems compounded by the pandemic.
According to data published by the National Institutes of Health, American consumption of alcohol has been gradually increasing year over year. Still, consumption skyrocketed during the pandemic more than in the last 50 years, meaning in just a few years, more Americans became regular alcohol users than had done so in the last half-century. That same study also found that alcohol-related illness, addiction, and death all spiked during the pandemic, with many of these metrics still not returning to pre-pandemic levels.
As for the hard numbers, alcohol sales jumped by about 3% during the pandemic (the largest year-over-year spike in 50 years), and about 25% of Americans drank more than usual, suggesting the jump in sales was likely the result of one-quarter of American adults consuming far more alcohol than they normally would.
Dr. Koob and other public health officials advise a healthier approach to life in the months and years following the pandemic, including the resumption of social activities, getting outdoors, exercising, and getting informed on the harmful effects of alcohol.
On a policy level, states should consider rolling back laws that allow for the home delivery of alcohol during the pandemic. Given the study data and research that has come forward since such laws were passed, it seems clear these laws caused harm in that they made it easier for residents to consume high quantities of alcohol in their homes.
Treatment Is Needed for Those Addicted to Alcohol
With upwards of 140,000 Americans now losing their lives to alcohol every year and approximately 29.5 million Americans meeting the criteria for alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse is a national public health emergency and should be treated as such. If you know someone who is using alcohol and who cannot stop on their own, please help them find and enter a qualified residential addiction treatment center as soon as possible. Please do not wait until it is too late.
- Wiley. “Speaker Abstract.” Wiley Online Library, 2023. onlinelibrary.wiley.com
- USNews. “Home Delivery of Alcohol Expanded During Pandemic, With Permanent Effects on Health.” U.S. News, 2023. usnews.com
- NIAAA. “Get the Facts About Underage Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov
- ScienceDirect. “Online on-demand delivery services of food and alcohol: A scoping review of public health impacts.” Science Direct, 2023. sciencedirect.com
- NIH. “Risky Alcohol Use: An Epidemic Inside the COVID-19 Pandemic.” National Institutes of Health, 2023. covid19.nih.gov
- NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov