Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts has reported a 300% increase in home deliveries of alcohol. While alcohol deliveries might be convenient, they also pose serious risks to public safety. In particular, they increase rates of binge drinking and underage drinking.
Alcohol Home Delivery In Massachusetts
At the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020, U.S. alcohol sales increased 54% compared to spring 2019. Shortly after, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a factsheet encouraging governments to implement initiatives that limit alcohol consumption.
The factsheet explained that alcohol could intensify mental health problems during lockdown and increase the risk of infection by weakening the immune system.
Despite these warnings, many states, including Massachusetts, responded to the pandemic by loosening restrictions on home delivery and pickup services from alcohol retailers (but not wholesalers). As a result, numerous Massachusetts residents made a habit of ordering alcohol right to their doors.
According to the executive director of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC), this surge in alcohol home deliveries has yet to decrease.
Risks Of Alcohol Home Delivery
Even before the pandemic, Massachusetts had established itself as an alcohol-heavy state.
Between 2011 and 2019, the state reported a 63% increase in total beer, wine, and liquor licenses. In addition, of the 16 states that set alcohol license quotas, only three states allow more licenses than Massachusetts.
That’s why many of the state’s substance abuse experts have expressed concern over the rise in alcohol home deliveries. Studies show that these deliveries lead to increased alcohol consumption, including binge drinking and underage drinking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as:
- having 4 or more drinks on one occasion if you’re a woman
- having 5 or more drinks on one occasion if you’re a man
Alcohol home delivery services make it much easier for people to binge drink. When you binge drink, you face a variety of immediate health risks, including:
- injuries, including falls, drownings, and motor vehicle crashes
- alcohol poisoning (also called alcohol overdose), which is life-threatening
- sexual assault, homicide, and other forms of violence
- risky sexual behaviors (such as unprotected sex or sex with multiple people), which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy
Also, if you binge drink while pregnant, you face an extremely high risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
In addition, people who binge drink on a regular basis may develop serious, long-term health problems, including:
- digestive issues
- weakened immune system
- depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems
- learning and memory problems, including dementia
- liver disease
- high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
- cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum
Binge drinking also raises your risk of alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction) is a substance use disorder that makes you feel unable to stop drinking even if you want to.
The most common symptoms are tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance means you need increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel drunk. Physical dependence means you experience withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and anxiety, when you don’t drink.
When left untreated, alcohol use disorder can have serious consequences, including job loss, damaged relationships, and death.
According to Massachusetts state law, a person of legal drinking age (21) must sign for all alcohol home deliveries. However, this law is often disregarded.
In March 2022, members of the Massachusetts Alcohol Policy Coalition (MAPC) tested how well citizens comply with this law by attempting 15 alcohol home deliveries and to-go purchases.
Each purchase was made by someone of legal drinking age. However, 15% of the in-person delivery recipients were young people under 21 (including a 10-year-old child), and 46% of delivery drivers failed to check the recipient’s ID.
Also, in November 2022, state alcohol regulators discovered that drivers working for two popular delivery apps (DoorDash and Uber Eats) had delivered alcohol from a local liquor store to underage Boston residents.
A year earlier, also in Boston, delivery drivers brought alcohol to 20 underage college students.
Underage drinking is highly dangerous. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 1,519 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including car crashes.
In addition, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), minors who drink alcohol are more likely to:
- get poor grades
- use other drugs
- engage in risky sexual behaviors
- develop alcohol problems later in life
- experience injury or death
How The State Is Responding
To reduce underage drinking, state officials are encouraging bars, breweries, package stores, and other small businesses that sell alcohol to avoid using outside delivery companies. That’s because most of these companies don’t take the proper steps to ensure that their drivers check each recipient’s ID.
Also, to decrease binge drinking among all Massachusetts residents, substance abuse experts are advocating for a return to tight restrictions on alcohol delivery.
If you or someone you love struggles with alcohol abuse, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, evidence-based treatments such as behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare planning.
Boston University School of Public Health — Alcohol, Health and Safety In Massachusetts
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health
CommonWealth Magazine — DoorDash busted for alcohol deliveries
GBH News — As alcohol home delivery persists, public health officials worry about substance abuse
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — College Drinking
Substance Abuse — Alcohol consumption and alcohol home delivery laws during the COVID-19 pandemic
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — The Consequences of Underage Drinking
World Health Organization — WHO: Restrict Alcohol Access During COVID-19 Lockdown