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How COVID-19 is boosting "vice" industries

It is probably no surprise that as people are spending more time at home during the nationwide ‘lockdown’, that expenditure on alcohol and online gambling has risen.

Recent data from CBA credit and debit card spending showed a whopping 86 percent increase in alcohol purchases, compared to the same time last year, and online deliveries of wine have boomed by 200 percent, according to Australia Post.

As clubs and pubs have also shut down around the country, poker machines and other forms of gambling can longer be accessed, resulting in the obvious effect of people moving to online substitutes.

Indeed, reported on figures that spending on gambling sites has increased by 67 percent, but even more shockingly, this increase represents the largest boost to the economy.

Boredom, stress and anxiety are common reasons for the increase in alcohol and online gambling consumption, irrespective of whether someone has had a pre-existing condition or not.

Anyone who has been on social media for more than a minute, would have come across the funny memes depicting wine-drinking and worn-out mothers trying to survive the homeschooling fiasco or the houseparty videos in a bid to stay socially connected by sharing ‘drinks’ with friends. Both scenarios reflect the reality of many people's lives at the moment and have almost become both socially accepted and approved.

Of course, mental health and wellbeing during this period of isolation is being significantly challenged. Disruptions to our normal way of connecting with friends, lifestyle and work-and-play habits, are genuine contributors.

In addition, many have lost their jobs, businesses are severely impacted and trying to predict anything at the moment is difficult for the majority of us. These situations are naturally distressing and can be further compounded by a sense of ongoing uncertainty and a lack of control.

With the combination of these psychological, social and economic factors, the temptation to reach for a wine or turn to the device for some entertainment can be hard to resist. Moreover, these vices are within easy reach, 'work' quickly and are relatively inexpensive.

The danger of course, is that these unhelpful habits work to either maintain poor mental health or make matters worse.

If you are in a negative habit loop, try to reverse this by opting for healthier alternatives to relieve boredom or stress. Effective strategies can include walking outdoors, gardening, a DIY project at home or trying new hobbies.

A summary of additional mood lifting ideas can be found here.

For further resources to help during the coronavirus outbreak, please check out this Lifeline article on mental health and wellbeing.


Clinical Psychologist, Sydney, Australia

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