Time to reflect on role alcohol plays in lives

Time to reflect on role alcohol plays in lives

Being locked down during a global pandemic is a time we'll never forget. Home schooling, working from home, social distancing - our lives were on hold.

So what did this mean for our alcohol intake? At La Trobe University's Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, we've been surveying people across the country on their drinking since April.

During those long months cooped up at home, some people drank more alcohol but for a larger proportion of people, alcohol consumption fell.

Perhaps unsurprisingly - given the challenges with home schooling and childcare - middle-aged women increased their consumption during lockdown than they did before, most likely due to increased stress.

Younger drinkers, on the other hand, stayed in and drank less. Deprived of social occasions, bars and parties, they drank less while they were at home.

Overall, while people drank more often during lockdown, they chose to drink less when they did. Risky drinking dropped off, and so did the related harms.

The reasons for these patterns seem straightforward - not being able to leave home removed opportunities to socialise, while others stuck at home experienced increased stress levels and drank more.

The real question is, what happens next?

While we should absolutely celebrate the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, this is a golden opportunity to build a more responsible relationship with alcohol.

The concern is that, even though people are returning to clubs and bars, and are freer to socialise, their more regular home drinking habits may continue to linger.

Drinking at home is a habitual behaviour, and habits are hard to break. If someone has become accustomed to drinking more regularly - say during the week at home - but not drinking so much on the weekend, will they reduce that midweek consumption when they are heading to the pub on the weekend, or will this lead to an overall increase?

These are questions we're hoping to find answers for - across Australia, but particularly in Victoria where lockdowns were extensive.

As well as rejoicing in the return of our social lives, Australians should spend some time thinking about how lockdown affected their drinking habits. It's worthwhile reflecting on the role that alcohol plays in our lives - but particularly as Australia re-opens and we learn to live in a "COVID-normal" world.

Dr Sarah Callinan is a Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University's Centre for Alcohol Policy Research