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COVID-19 Stress Fuels Spike in Australia Family Violence

Police officers detain a protester opposing lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outside Parliament House in Melbourne, Australia.

Researchers say stress and alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to increase rates of family violence in Australia. Research has found that a fifth of Australians have bought more alcohol than usual during lockdowns. Of those, 70% are drinking more.

Health campaigns are urging Australians not to turn to alcohol because of concerns about the coronavirus.

“None of us could ever imagine finding ourself in this situation, so it is OK to feel stressed, it is OK to feel anxious and a little bit uncertain. But we just need to be careful that we are not using alcohol to try to cover all of that up.”

Recent research, though, shows that 20% of Australian households have bought more alcohol than usual during the crisis. Caterina Giorgi is the chief executive of Australia’s Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

“We found that 1 in 5 households are purchasing more alcohol, and when we looked at these households, we found that 70% are drinking more and that a third are worried about their drinking or the drinking of someone in their household," said Giorgi. "We also found that these people are drinking earlier in the day and they are more likely to drink daily, and that contributes to larger problems down the track, including alcohol dependence and alcohol-fueled chronic diseases like cancer.”

There are likely to be other more sinister consequences, too. Australian courts have heard more cases of domestic violence, and paramedics are responding to more emergency calls. The police have conducted dozens of random checks on known offenders and victims. In the Northern Territory, doctors have reported a 15% increase in the number of people requiring surgery due to family violence. Collated national figures are not yet available, but Nicole Lee, a professor at Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute, believes rates of domestic abuse will increase.

“Alcohol consumption has got quite a complex relationship with family violence, but while we don’t have any data about the rates of family violence during lockdown, I expect that we would see an increase in family violence," said Lee. "That is especially likely because [of] increased stress in the household and increases in unemployment.”

More funding is being given to crisis support services for victims of violence in the home.

Australia’s alcohol industry denies the survey findings. It says overall Australian beer, wine and spirits consumption is lower than it was a year ago because of pandemic-related closures of pubs, bars and restaurants.