Social Media, Digital Parties, Family: Psychiatrist Explains Boom in Alcohol Sales Amid Pandemic

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The outbreak of the coronavirus, which has infected more than one million people worldwide, has resulted in a massive economic slowdown and enormous pressure on healthcare systems, as well as temporarily caused shortages of products in stores as people in panic have been stockpiling.

Alcohol sales have spiked around the world amid the coronavirus outbreak. In the United States, which has the highest number of COVID-19 virus cases at more than 330,000, sales jumped 55 percent in the third week of March. Even sales of beer, which has been becoming less and less popular in the US, grew by roughly 90 percent.

Carla Kmett Danielson, professor of psychiatry at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Centre, outlined several reasons behind the boom in alcohol sales.

Panic and Misinformation

During emergency situations and natural disasters, people do everything to protect themselves and their loved ones. Professor Danielson says that media reports claiming that the consumption of alcohol could kill the coronavirus or that alcohol can be used as an antiseptic have led some people to stockpile on it. Another factor that has contributed to the rise in sales is panic spread on social media.

“Much like how the toilet paper craze appears to be one resulting from hearing about other people stocking up on TP and seeing the empty shelves that were once packed with this everyday paper product (either live or via pictures on social media), it appears people hearing about long lines at the liquor or wine store—or hearing rumours that these stores will be ordered closed soon—have prompted people to stock up on alcohol in a similar way”, said Carla Danielson.

Let’s Get This Party Started… in Zoom

The pandemic and the measures introduced to curb the spread of the virus have completely changed our lives. People in most of the world population have been confined to their homes. The lack of live communication has led to a “digital meeting” trend. This, Professor Danielson said, is another reason behind the boom in alcohol sales.

“Friends are following physical distancing guidelines, but are still looking for social connectivity, which is a positive thing, —and invite one another to enjoy wine, beer, and other alcohol beverages together within these forums. Someone who may not typically consume an alcoholic beverage during a weekday may feel compelled to do so in these increasing common ‘social’ contexts. With regard to this latter point, given that many schedules have been turned on their heads and may have eliminated the reason for early morning wake up times during the week, this creates more opportunities to enjoy spirits in the evenings”, commented Carla Danielson.

Booze to Cure Stress and Blues

One of the obvious reasons why people stock up on alcohol, according to Professor Danielson, is that it helps to overcome stress “created by or amplified” by the coronavirus pandemic. Posts on social media reveal that alcohol is “a cornerstone to survival of boredom, survival of the unknown, for what lies ahead for our families, our states, our world”, Carla Danielson said.

She notes that alcohol in the United States has become a synonym for coping with stress due to popular culture.

“Every TV sitcom that has a character making a comment of having a long day or stressful situation and ‘needing’ a drink and/or being offered a drink and/or going to a bar for this purpose. Even Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory—who identified as a non-drinker—was shown in multiple episodes being driven to drink when the situation was stressful enough”, Professor Danielson pointed out.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Another reason that, according to the professor, may explain why people have rushed to buy alcohol during the pandemic is family history – genetic predisposition and drinking during stressful times have been role-modelled by parents and relatives. This is “a reminder to current parents about the messages they may be sending to children in their home about alcohol and drinking to cope”, Danielson said.

She explains that people who have experienced traumatic events in the past are at risk of developing alcohol problems “not just now but also in the years to come”.

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