COVID-19 propels alcohol sales and new risks, USC experts say

April 9, 2020

Alcoholic beverage sales rose by 55% last month due to COVID-19, while pre-mixed cocktail sales jumped 75% and online alcohol sales more than doubled over last year, the Associated Press reports. But the bottoms-up binge comes with a social cost as USC experts explore the potential for substance abuse and ways to manage drinking during pandemic.

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Retailers quickly adapt to a changing sales landscape for booze


Anthony Dukes, professor and chair of the marketing department at the USC Marshall School of Business.

“With the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19, we’re seeing online (alcohol) sales increasing, an increase in demand, and restaurants are looking for ways to capitalize on the demand. It’s a perfect storm,” Dukes said.

He added:

  • Profit margins on wine and other alcoholic beverages are vital to restaurants and bars.
  • Alcohol, even cocktails, is now an option for many take-out food orders – a first for California and some other states.
  • Online sales of alcohol have increased due to COVID-19.
  • Alcohol sales are part of the California economy, from craft beer enterprises in San Diego to Napa Valley vineyards.

Dukes is an expert in retail pricing and retail distribution channels.



Disruption due to disease outbreak leads to alcohol abuse

Daryl Davies, professor of clinical pharmacy and director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC School of Pharmacy, and co-director of the Neurobiology Research Program at the USC Institute for Addiction Science.

“As social distancing and self-isolation turns from weeks to months, we’ll see more online partying, more Zoom parties and more alcohol consumption, so we’re going to hear about more problems related to alcohol abuse,” Davies said.

He added:

  • Economic dislocation, job loss and fear of disease are triggers for substance abuse.
  • Suicide and domestic violence are more likely during bouts of alcohol or substance abuse.
  • COVID-19 limits access to support systems, such as friends, neighbors, therapists, church, family and recovery groups.
  • “Connecting to support networks will be important so drinking doesn’t push people back into that dark space,” Davies said.

Davies is an expert in alcohol use disorders, opioid abuse and drug abuse prevention and treatment.


Hobbies and habits are good ways to control substance abuse

John Clapp, professor at the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

“This situation with COVID-19 is tailor-made for drinking. It’s stressful and boring. People are coping with kids at home, spouses, social stress, financial stress, work stress and the threat of disease. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we’ve seen a spike in drinking,” Clapp said.

He added:

  • Virtual happy hours quickly replaced attending bars and parties.
  • Relapse is possible as people struggling to overcome substance abuse find themselves alone facing new challenges, including finding online help groups.
  • Daily routines can restore order to life and help people cope during uncertainty.
  • Do positive things, such as gardening, yoga, exercise, books or walking.
  • Limit consumption same as in normal times and “don’t drink like it’s a never-ending weekend,” Clapp said.

Clapp is an expert in binge drinking prevention, and college students and drinking. He is co-editor of the International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research and produces a blog,


Drug and alcohol problems complicate COVID-19 health risks

Adam Leventhal, professor of preventive medicine and psychology and director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science.

“People who regularly smoke or use other substances can have impaired immune system and lung functioning, which might increase risk of contracting COVID-19 and having worse outcomes from the virus,” Leventhal said.

He added:

  • Bad news is COVID-19 disruption causes stress – job loss, illness, fear, isolation – that contribute to substance use.
  • Substance use increased in regional disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.
  • Alcohol consumption is linked to domestic violence.
  • Marijuana dispensaries remain open in California and other states, and sales may be increasing.
  • Good news is people who imbibe in social contexts can’t now due to social distancing, perhaps resulting in reductions in alcohol use and binge drinking for some groups.”

Leventhal is an expert in smoking, addiction, e-cigarettes and mental health.

Contact: and @AdamMLeventhal