Alcohol consumption is on the rise, with many people exceeding the advice of no more than 14 units a week. This roughly equates to two or fewer drinks a day for men or one drink or less a day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2022). Additionally, it is recommended that drinking be spread over three or more days a week.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence strongly suggests that alcohol consumption had rapidly increased, with the general population reporting that they now consume more drinks and drink on a greater number of days throughout the week. The figures indicate that around 60% of adults in the United States over 21 years reported increased drinking, whilst only 13% reported decreased drinking when compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic (Grossman et al., 2020). The reasoning behind this change in alcohol habits lies with increased stress, increased alcohol availability, and boredom, with many people having increased access to alcohol whilst remaining at home during national lockdown periods. This increased consumption appears to have continued following the pandemic period.
Consequences of alcohol consumption
The consequences of alcohol include both general and societal implications, with excessive consumption impacting the health of wellbeing of those who drink and also the lives of those around them. Although when consumed in moderation alcohol has little societal impact, if this consumption continues to rise, there are a wide array of adverse impacts for people who drink, their families, friends, co-workers, and other people they encounter. As detailed in several studies, the societal problems with alcohol consumption include economic losses from time-off work, disruption to personal relationships, emotional instability, impact on perceived health, increased violence and aggression, and in some cases, legal problems (Alcohol Research & Health, 2000).
The long-term health risks of a prolonged increase in alcohol consumption must also be considered. When alcohol consumption reaches a chronic level, it is widely established that physical and mental conditions follow. This includes liver disease, pancreatitis, dementia, and several types of cancer. Furthermore, frequent heavy drinking episodes can take a toll on a person’s mental health and put a substantial strain on their personal relationships (Hendriks, 2020).
Alcohol consumption and driving
Another consequence of a rise in alcohol consumption is the number of road traffic accidents. A report published in 2021 reviewed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the incidence, patterns, and severity of injuries resulting from car accidents. Here, an increase in the number and severity of road collisions was observed in nine countries, with these findings attributed to increased speeding, reduced law enforcement, and increased alcohol and drug use (Yasin et al., 2021).
The alcohol consumption limit for driving in the United States is a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, whilst in Europe, this is lower at 0.05%. Collectively, this roughly equates to one pint of a beer or cider or one small glass of wine. However, the blood alcohol content varies considerably between individuals and therefore, alcohol self-testing tools can prove crucial in preventing accidents as a result of drink driving (Zamengo et al., 2014). Several studies have highlighted that “intoxicated people are generally poor at estimating their own intoxication”, and self-testing measures would enable them to more accurately determine their blood alcohol content (Kelly & Mozayani, 2012; Monds et al., 2021).
Alcohol self-testing tools
Self-testing tools are an efficient method of measuring alcohol consumption, especially before driving. Given the rise in alcohol consumption both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is warranted that people should have free access to alcohol self-testing measures to prevent putting themselves and others in harm’s way. More than this, self-testing tools will allow those who have increased their alcohol consumption in recent years to reflect on their decisions and determine if they need to reduce their intake.