The Drinkers

A COVID-19 Alcohol Boom, Bust, and Brawl

The pandemic has left some businesses hurting while giving others a boost. For example, restaurants are hurting, but the business of selling alcohol is having a boom time. People are drinking up during this pandemic. Sooner or later, though, we’ll have to pay the tab. And the real cost may be to our health, warns Lorenzo Leggio, a researcher with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

I get worried when people think about alcohol as a tool to unwind, a tool to cope with stress and anxiety.

We know from previous traumatic events, Katrina and 9/11, people who survived some of them developed alcohol use disorder relating to the increase in stress.

In the midst of all this, a brawl is quietly unfolding. Will the new dietary guidelines cut the definition of moderate drinking in half for men?

Quarantine Cocktail Parties

Bars and restaurants have faced severe restrictions. But it’s a boom time for alcohol consumption. Quarantine cocktail parties quickly became a hot ticket in the early days of the pandemic. sells wine, beer, and liquor online and saw a dramatic increase in sales with the pandemic. Brand Director Liz Paquette tells NPR that sales are up by 350 percent for the company.

Nielsen’s market research data says alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants are up 24 percent, with sales of the harder stuff growing even more. Cocktails to go have become a tool for restaurants and bars to make up for lost ground. Commerce finds a way.

Less Alcohol for More Health

Currently, the definition of moderate drinking is no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. The report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends cutting the number in half for men. The committee acknowledged that the recommendation might be “aspirational.”

Said another way, people might simply ignore it. That’s because drinking well beyond moderation is everywhere you look. Ginger Hultin is a registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She says not many people look to dietary guidelines for advice on drinking:

Whenever I educate clients or speak to groups and mention the previous guidelines, I get a lot of surprise and even anger. Many people actually aren’t aware of the guidelines, and exceeding them is so normalized that I do think change and reduction will be challenging.


Indeed, the spirits industry is not very happy about this recommendation. Their PR machine is busy depicting the recommendation as “seriously flawed.” Op-eds from “free-market” consumer groups are popping up to demand that USDA reject the advice of health scientists. They’re getting legislators to chime in.

So the Washington brawl is rumbling along while the alcohol boom continues. Meanwhile most people will remain blissfully unaware that their drinking is too much for good health.

Click here for more from NPR, here for more from the BBC, and here for more from the Washington Post.

The Drinkers, painting by Vincent van Gogh / WikiArt

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September 22, 2020