Why we need to talk about parents drinking during lockdown

On 22 May 2020, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation launched its ‘You haven’t been drinking alone’ campaign, encouraging Australian parents to consider the impacts that increased drinking during lockdown might be having on their children, and placing the issue on the public agenda.

It’s part of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s commitment to leading everyday conversations around alcohol and other drugs.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation CEO, Dr Erin Lalor AM, took some time out to explain why this campaign is so important right now:


Since the outbreak of coronavirus, many people have experienced heightened feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety, or boredom, which are all risk factors for increased alcohol use.

Various reports have confirmed that some Australians have been drinking more alcohol in the COVID-19 climate.

The Australian National University (ANU) recently released data showing that of those Australians who drank alcohol, around one in five (20.2%) have increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.1

The study also found that drinking was “substantially higher for females”, with child caring responsibilities cited as a major factor for increased alcohol consumption among women during the pandemic.1

The ANU’s Professor Nicholas Biddle said: ‘Those individuals who increased from an already high base, or those who have had an increase in alcohol consumption alongside a worsening in mental health outcomes, are likely to be of the greatest concern for public policy.’2

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s data is also showing increased alcohol consumption among some parents since the outbreak of coronavirus. Our recent poll of more than 1,000 parents of school-aged children found over one in four (29%) parents drank more during the lockdown period, with millennial parents the most likely to be consuming more (35%), followed by Gen X parents (28%), then Baby Boomers (16%).

Our polling data found that almost one in six parents surveyed (14%) had been drinking every day during lockdown, with 20% consuming alcohol in front of their children daily or every other day.

Parents of 9-12 year olds were found to be drinking the most, with one in 10 saying they were drinking “a lot more” following the introduction of coronavirus restrictions, with almost a quarter of parents of this age group (23%) saying they have been consuming alcohol in front of their children daily or every other day during lockdown.

One in four parents reported seeing alcohol-related memes every day during lockdown. 43% of parents under the age of 34 said memes about drinking during isolation as a survival mechanism have influenced their drinking.

Our poll data was the catalyst for the development of the ‘You haven’t been drinking alone’ campaign which the Alcohol and Drug Foundation launched in late May, encouraging parents to consider how increased drinking during isolation might be impacting their children.

In launching the campaign, our aim was to help parents understand that their attitudes and behaviours around alcohol play one of the most significant roles in shaping their children’s attitudes and future behaviours towards alcohol.

The non-stigmatising campaign provides information to help parents learn how they can role model lower-risk behaviours around alcohol to their children. This includes information about lowering the risks of the harmful effects of alcohol and encouraging parents to show their kids that they don’t always need alcohol to relax, have fun, as a reward or in every social situation.

In examining an event like COVID-19, there have been number of key risk factors for increased alcohol consumption.

Research tells us that there is a correlation between increases in alcohol consumption and traumatic events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks and major economic events.3, 4 Whilst Australia is now exiting lockdown, we are yet to see the full global impact of coronavirus. It is reasonable to expect the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic uncertainty will have an ongoing impact on our lives.

We know that significant changes in personal circumstances such as job loss can lead to increases in a person’s alcohol consumption. In Australia, the ABS estimates the number of people in work fell by around 600,000 between March and April of 2020, as the overall unemployment rate climbed to 6.2%.5, 6 With expectations that the unemployment rate may reach 10% in the June quarter,7 the full economic impacts of COVID 19 are not yet apparent.

The pandemic has been a particularly tough time for parents, with many having to juggle major disruptions in their own routines, with home schooling, and feelings of stress, anxiety, isolation or boredom.

While it is more important than ever that people maintain their health and wellbeing, we have seen problematic alcohol advertising tactics, including marketing alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Memes promoting alcohol as a coping tool such as ‘It may take a village to raise a child but I swear it’s going to take a whole vineyard to homeschool one’, became increasingly prevalent during lockdown. These types of memes can play a role in the normalisation of excessive drinking and the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation acknowledges that this is an extremely tough time, however we do not want to see current challenges compounded by further normalisation of alcohol in our homes, nor an increase in alcohol-related harms.

It is important that as a community, we work to ensure that ‘lockdown’ behaviours and attitudes around alcohol consumption in the home don’t carry through as we return to our ‘new normal’.

For further information on the campaign or support visit www.adf.org.au

  1. Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M, Sollis K. Alcohol consumption during the COVID19 period: May 2020. ANU: Centre for Social Research and Methods; 2020.
  2. Australian National University. Alcohol consumption increases during COVID-19 crisis; 2020 [updated June 10; cited 2020 June 12].
  3. de Goeij MCM, Suhrcke M, Toffolutti V, van de Mheen D, Schoenmakers TM, Kunst AE. How economic crises affect alcohol consumption and alcohol-related health problems: A realist systematic review. Social Science & Medicine. 2015;131:131-46.
  4. Keyes KM, Hatzenbuehler ML, Hasin DS. Stressful life experiences, alcohol consumption, and alcohol use disorders: the epidemiologic evidence for four main types of stressors. Psychopharmacology. 2011;218(1):1-17.
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. IMPACTS ON THE AUSTRALIAN LABOUR MARKET: A REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE; 2020 [updated May 26; cited 2020 June 12]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/articles/impacts-australian-labour-market-regional-perspective-april-2020.
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics. IMPACTS ON THE AUSTRALIAN LABOUR MARKET: A REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE 2020 [updated May 26. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/articles/impacts-australian-labour-market-regional-perspective-april-2020.
  7. Reserve Bank of Australia. Statement on Monetary Policy – May 2020: Economic Outlook; 2020 [updated May; cited 2020 June 12]. Available from: https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/smp/2020/may/economic-outlook.html#:~:text=The%20Australian%20economy%20is%20expected,cent%20in%20the%20June%20quarter.