As for long-term effects, a study of the impact of the SARS outbreak on Beijing hospital employees in 2003 found greater likelihood of alcohol abuse or dependence symptoms three years later associated with quarantine or working in high-risk settings such as wards dedicated to treating patients with the respiratory illness. Greater exposure to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was associated with more binge drinking after a year, and higher odds of alcohol dependence one and two years later. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, alcohol consumption rose. After Hurricane Rita, adolescent alcohol use increased in Louisiana. What this suggests is that during the coronavirus crisis, people are putting in place patterns of heavier drinking that will show up in future higher rates of alcohol use disorders.
As governors declare alcohol sales essential, cities can still use policy levers to flatten this curve of problems from alcohol use. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, CityHealth, a project of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente rated the nation’s 40 largest cities on whether they have claimed jurisdiction over alcohol sales within their borders.
Eight can regulate alcohol outlets, including limiting hours and days of sale, establishing maximum purchase amounts, and banning price discounting, which is known to increase alcohol consumption. If necessary, they can also shut down premises.
Another eight have elements of local control over alcohol sales, but lack jurisdiction over some portion of new or existing outlets.
The remaining 24 cities lack control, because they are preempted from it by state laws that prohibit local action, or because they have not expressly taken such authority in their city codes. Yet even in these cities, civic and public health leaders could use emergency powers to limit or shut down alcohol sales in their jurisdictions.
Measures and optics
A large body of research has found that the number of stores selling alcohol in an area, and how they serve and sell it matters for public health. The Task Force on Community Preventive Services concluded that limiting both the density of outlets and the hours and days they may sell are effective measures for reducing alcohol problems.
There are many anecdotal reports of stores limiting how many rolls of toilet paper consumers may purchase, yet people are walking out with cartloads of alcoholic beverages. Jurisdictions at every level, including cities, need to be aware of the likely effects of increased alcohol abuse in times like this, and use the policy levers at their disposal to mitigate these effects. Alcohol may be essential for some, but too much of it is dangerous for many, both now and into the future.
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David H. Jernigan, Professor of Health Law, Policy & Management, Boston University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.