SOUTH-WEST residents may have turned to drinking away their sorrows throughout the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data, with liquor sales propping up some hospitality businesses.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the country's alcohol retailers turned over a record $15.6 billion in sales in 2020 which is an increase of 26.7 per cent or $3.3 billion more than in 2019.
Warrnambool's Mac's Hotel and bottleshop owner Peter 'Cork' Walsh said alcohol sales evened out the income loss from his bistro.
"The bottleshop was really good for our staff, I could retain all of them that way," Mr Walsh said. "I'm glad I had it because it paid the bills.
"Our bottle shop sales have definitely gone up but bar sales are down. It's hard to judge what impact it's having now because with the restrictions, people can't come out as much and that means the bar and food sales are down.
"People's habits have changed. People have learnt to drink at home and I think it will take a while before people come back to the bar fully."
The ABS also revealed that December was the highest-grossing month for alcohol purchases in Australian history.
Health concerns for heightened alcohol purchases
Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre operations manager Mark Powell said alcohol continued to be the biggest substance abuse the centre supported.
"We are definitely concerned about excessive alcohol use and the worsening of existing mental health problems that can occur with alcohol abuse and are already heightened by the pandemic," Mr Powell said.
"In one sense we're lucky alcohol is legal commodity so we can know the data from the sales. But what we're also concerned about is what we don't know for illegal substances.
"Just because there's an increase of sales doesn't necessarily mean there's an increase use. We saw people panic-buy toilet paper to stockpile. But with alcohol, if you have more of it about, you tend to use more.
"The data also doesn't show what demographics are drinking more, whether it's younger people, men or women, and this it where we need to market."
Mr Powell said WRAD had seen an increased rate in referrals and people were contacting the service about their dependence on alcohol.
If the thought of a lockdown incites panic for you to buy alcohol, you should check your relationship with alcohol.Mark Powell
"I have spoken to numerous people from around Australia about their increased-use in COVID," he said. "There is a trend of when you don't have to get up in the morning for work, people are drinking more.
"Just because you still have a job or a roof over your head, doesn't mean you don't have a problem with alcohol.
"If the thought of a lockdown incites panic for you to buy alcohol, you should check your relationship with alcohol."
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