04:47 GMT29 May 2020
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    In an effort to throw an economic lifeline to businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, many US governors have deemed alcohol sellers “essential businesses,” which allows them to remain open amid lockdowns. However, this appears to have had some unintended consequences, as rates of drinking among Americans have surged.

    In addition to remaining open, restrictions on alcohol home delivery and carryout cocktails have been relaxed. In The Conversation, David Jernigan, professor of health law, policy and management at Boston University, writes that thus far during the epidemic, evidence suggests that people in the US are buying more alcohol, and in larger quantities. This trend is likely to increase alcohol use disorders for years to come, Jernigan says.

    In the past 30 days, over a quarter of the nationwide population has binged on alcohol - defined as more than four drinks on an occasion for women, and more than five drinks for men - with 1 in 17 (5.8%) having an alcohol use disorder ranging from mild to severe. As a result of many people being out of work, they have less money to spend on alcohol, but they are also more likely to drink to alleviate the stress they are feeling. These two factors lead them to purchase larger quantities of cheaper alcohol.

    According to Nielsen data, for the week ending March 14, US liquor and grocery stores saw sales of wine up 27.6%, spirits by 26.4% and beer, cider and malt beverages by 14% compared to the same time last year. Some of this is a result of people buying in bulk for the purpose of stockpiling, with sales of 3-liter boxes of wine rising by 53% and purchases of 24-packs of beer increasing by 24%. Online alcohol sales for that week were similarly up 42% compared to the same time last year. 

    Health researchers caution that the increase in alcohol consumption will have both short- and long-term consequences on personal health and safety. Because alcohol abuse suppresses the body’s immune system, excessive drinking could increase the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.

    Long-term effects of binge drinking during the coronavirus crisis may include people normalizing patterns of such behavior, which increases the probability of alcohol dependency disorders in the future.

    Amid the lockdown and higher rates of alcohol abuse, safety risks have also gone up. In San Antonio, Texas, domestic violence calls have surged 21% amid the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

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