National Consumers League

Alcohol consumption during COVID-19: What the consumer needs to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

While most people are stuck at home in America during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have increased their alcohol purchase and consumption. During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly stated at the end of prohibition, “what America needs right now is a drink.” American’s are now facing another crisis, a pandemic and are adhering to this call.

According to a survey done by the research firm Nielsen, off-premise sales of alcohol spiked nationwide following stay-at-home orders. A new study from Alcohol.org stated that 1 in 3 Americans are drinking alcohol while working from home during COVID-19 lockdown. About 32 percent of Americans are more likely to be drinking while working from home, with 36 percent of men and 26 percent of women drinking while working.

In 2018, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) disclosed data showing that 86.3 percent of Americans ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70 percent reported they drank in the past year; 55.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month. NSDUH also indicated in 2018 that 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States. This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women. The survey went onto disclose an estimated 401,000 youth ages from 12 to 17 had Alcohol Use Disorder.

According to Healthline, Americans expressed that their daily routine has changed and many have faced unemployed. This increased uncertainty, anxiety, and fear brought on by the pandemic has resulted in binge drinking.

What is defined as “binge drinking”? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.

Binge drinking has some serious risks and is associated with many health problems, including:

  • sudden infant death syndrome;
  • obesity;
  • chronic diseases such as high blood pressures, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease;
  • cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon;
  • memory and learning problems;
  • alcohol use disorders;
  • and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

The CDC stated in 2010 that alcohol misuse cost Americans an estimated $249.0 billion. These costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent of these costs or $191 billion.

Many consumers are unaware that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has not mandated “Alcohol Facts” on alcoholic beverages. Consumers have access to labeling information that contains nutritional facts on every single thing they consume except alcoholic beverages. As a result, consumers have little means of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages. At the National Consumers League (NCL), we think the need for alcohol labeling is long overdue. Over the last two decades, NCL has petitioned the federal government for standardized “Alcohol Facts” and, this summer, will be calling for action on Alcoholic Beverage Labeling. Join your voice with ours by signing the forthcoming petition addressed to TTB and demand the drafting and implementation of rules that mandate a standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all alcoholic beverages. It’s time to end the confusion so consumers can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions.