Home Delivery of Alcohol Expanded During Pandemic, With Permanent Effects on Health

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Key Takeaways

  • Pandemic-era laws that paved the way for home delivery of alcohol fueled a rise in binge drinking, research shows

  • Many U.S. states now allow retailers, restaurants and bars to deliver alcohol to customers' homes

  • Researchers say the laws were passed without regard to the potential public health impact

WEDNESDAY, June 28, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- During the COVID-19 pandemic home liquor delivery soared in the United States, as did binge drinking along with it, a new study finds.

"'Home delivery’ refers to when restaurants, bars or retailers use their own employees or a third-party delivery system such as DoorDash or Uber Eats to deliver alcohol to consumers’ homes," said researcher Elyse Grossman, a social and behavioral sciences administrator at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Although the number of states that allowed home delivery was already trending upwards during the last two decades, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased these numbers."

Grossman's team analyzed legal databases and found that more states permitted home delivery during the pandemic. In January 2020, 21 states permitted home delivery of alcohol by retailers, which grew to 38 states by January 2022.

The number of states permitting home delivery of alcohol by restaurants or bars rose from 23 states to 39 states.

The findings were presented Tuesday at a meeting of the Research Society on Alcohol, in Bellevue, Wash.

"Although data from early in the pandemic showed large increases in alcohol sales, it was unclear at that time if individuals were increasing their alcohol consumption or only stockpiling the alcohol," Grossman said in a meeting news release.

"In May 2020, we conducted an online survey of U.S. adults ages 21+ living throughout the country; the final sample included 838 participants," she said. "We found that, of the adults who obtained at least some of their alcohol via delivery, they reported consuming significantly more alcohol and binge drinking significantly more often than participants who did not obtain their alcohol through delivery."

Although many states expanded their home delivery laws as a way to help businesses, Grossman said few considered the potential consumer on public health.

"In the future, it is important that public health be given greater weight when states are considering policy decisions which increase access to alcohol," she said.

"Furthermore, although we did not examine youth drinking habits -- given the increase in access to alcohol for youth via expanded home delivery laws, and the fact that retailers and third-party delivery drivers often do not check IDs -- we hypothesize that youth drinking habits were probably also negatively impacted by expanded home delivery laws and strongly urge future research in this area," Grossman said.

Lisa Hawkins is chief of communications and public affairs for the Distilled Spirits Council, which represents the spirits industry.

Reacting to the new report, she noted that, “During the COVID pandemic, several states adopted emergency measures to permit the delivery of alcohol products from restaurants and liquor stores to reduce the risks to patrons and hospitality industry workers, while also trying to keep afloat hundreds of thousands of hospitality businesses. This new research should be interpreted with caution, given it was a small sample size and was conducted at the very early stages of the pandemic in the U.S."

Hawkins added that "The findings also contradict the two leading federal surveys on alcohol consumption, which reported that nearly 9 out of 10 U.S. adults 21 years and older said they drank the same or less than they did pre-pandemic and underage drinking dropped to its lowest level during the pandemic.”

Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol and health.

SOURCE: Research Society on Alcohol, news release, June 27, 2023; Statement, Lisa Hawkins, Chief of Communications and Public Affairs, Distilled Spirits Council

What This Means For You

The ease of getting alcohol delivered to your home may prompt you to drink more.

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