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UNSW researchers analyse the changes in alcohol consumption during COVID-19 for more effective alcohol policies

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Changes to alcohol availability, high-level restrictions and increased life stressors stemming from COVID-19 will inevitably change Australia’s relationship with alcohol, but in what ways?

Alcohol can be a marker of celebrations, a tool for socialising and bonding, or a ritual marking the completion of a task. At the same time, for many Australians it is also a coping mechanism and for some, it is associated with harmful behaviours, such as domestic violence or a struggle with addiction.

One of 12 projects under our Rapid Response Research Fund examines Australia’s purchasing and consumption behaviour of alcohol before, during and after COVID-19 to inform future alcohol policy and reduce alcohol related harm. 

Project lead Professor Alison Ritter AO, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Arts & Social Sciences, is an expert in data collection and analysis, and is internationally recognised for her work on drug and alcohol policies. She says, “Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, around 20 per cent of the population were recorded to be drinking alcohol at a level that put them at risk of harm or injury over their lifetime.

“The recent changes to alcohol availability alongside the increase of life stressors stemming from the pandemic means that this percentage will certainly change, but we don’t know in which direction. 

“It’s essential that we drill down to discover exactly how Australia’s relationship with alcohol is changing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the associated alcohol policy shifts. The insights will enable policy makers to craft the most effective and responsive alcohol policies for now and the future.”

The insights and data generated through this project will not only assist policy makers, but also vulnerable community members, those impacted by alcohol addiction and Australia’s healthcare system. 

To obtain these insights, Professor Ritter and team will collect accurate and detailed policy data, undertake online qualitative interviews, and conduct four short online surveys. The project will be delivered by the Drug Policy Modelling Program, which is part of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Arts and Social Sciences.

Determining the scope of COVID-19’s impact across our communities will require extensive research conducted by qualified teams. You can help generate much-needed insights that will help reduce the risks of alcohol related harm in the future by supporting this Rapid Response Research project.