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The Margin: Drinking at home more during the pandemic? You’re not alone

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Here is more evidence that the pandemic drove a lot of us to drink. 

U.S. beer, wine and liquor store sales spiked by $41.9 billion between March and September 2020, or a 20% increase compared with the same period in 2019, according to research from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health published in the journal Alcohol.

The researchers drew on retail sales data from the Monthly Retail Trade Survey. And because food and drinking place retail sales decreased by 27% during the same period in the same survey, the researchers suggest that this indicates Americans were drinking more at home to cope with the stress of the pandemic. And, of course, more people were drinking at home because many bars and restaurants were closed.

Indeed, when COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic and the U.S. started rolling out shelter-in-place measures in March and April last year, Nielsen reported that alcohol sales in stores were up 54% in late March compared with that same period in 2019, while online alcohol sales spiked 243% as many folks restocked their liquor cabinets and wine cellars to keep their spirits up while hunkering down. 

And the researchers in this latest study warned that excessive drinking could have many consequences.

Related: More than half of Gen Z investors admit to trading while drunk

“Our results appear to substantiate an increase in home drinking during the period, which could potentially lead to higher alcohol consumption and alcohol-related adverse health outcomes,” wrote Dr. João Mauricio Castaldelli-Maia, the lead author on the study. 

“During the pandemic, increases in alcohol use at home could potentially exacerbate the effects of social isolation on domestic violence,” Castaldelli-Maia continued. “For example, U.S. police department data illustrates that there was a 10%-27% increase in calls concerning domestic violence during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders across diverse locations in the country — from Alabama and Texas to Oregon and New York, although it is unclear whether home drinking played a role in such outcomes.”

In fact, the World Health Organization urged governments to uphold or strengthen restrictions on buying booze during the pandemic last year, especially since alcohol consumption can compromise the immune system and actually increase the risk of getting sick with something like the coronavirus.

Some remote workers also reportedly started hitting the sauce from their home offices. An April 2020 survey of nearly 13,000 verified professionals on the social networking app Fishbowl found 42% admitting that they were drinking alcohol while on the clock and working from home. A more recent survey reported by the Independent claims that 45% of surveyed remote workers have a drink during their workday, and 40% admit to signing off early for happy hour.

Last fall, a study of 1,540 adults ages 30 to 80 published in the journal JAMA Network Open reported that participants were drinking 14% more than they were before the pandemic. And American women in particular reported a 41% spike in episodes of heavy drinking (defined as downing four or more drinks within two hours) in the spring of 2020 as compared with a year earlier. 

Related: U.S. online alcohol sales jump 243% during coronavirus pandemic

And another survey conducted last year found that 29% of respondents who drank alcohol reported increasing their drinking since COVID-19 hit, and people with anxiety or depression symptoms were even more likely to have increased their alcohol use. 

What’s more, Google searches for “alcohol drink” and “liquor store near me” hit an all-time high in the U.S. last November as Americans watched the results of the contentious presidential election trickle in. 

Related: ‘Everyone’s feeling this’: People are using alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress — here’s how to drink less

If you or someone you know is struggling with problem drinking, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) free, confidential National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for treatment referral and information. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator also provides information on alcohol-use disorder, the kinds of treatments available, and how to find science-backed care from alcohol-treatment programs, therapists and addiction doctors in your area. And MarketWatch also recently pulled together some strategies and resources to help people drink in moderation, or to abstain altogether.

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