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Alcohol delivery services linked to extended drinking sessions, study finds

Alcohol delivery services are being used to extend drinking sessions, according to a new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review. The survey, conducted by a team led by UNSW Sydney, found that one in five Australian adults who use online alcohol delivery services do so to extend a home drinking session. A third of respondents indicated that they would have stopped drinking if the option wasn't available. The study also found that those who used a fast same-day service to continue drinking were six times more likely to drink at hazardous levels than those who had never used a service in this way.

Expansion in the home delivery sector

While alcohol home delivery services have been around for a while, sales have risen significantly in recent years. More online retailers are offering to bring alcohol direct-to-door in under two hours than ever before to meet demand. Convenience, followed by cost, were the most common reasons for purchasing alcohol online for delivery. Most participants also used an online promotion, such as a multi-buy deal, which was associated with buying more alcohol. Over half of those surveyed said they had participated in an online promotion in their latest purchase, and they bought, on average, 22 more standard drinks than those who did not participate.

Regulations needed

The study also found poorer age verification practices for home delivery amongst adults under 25. They were significantly more likely to report never having their ID checked when receiving an alcohol delivery at the door compared to in-person at a bottle shop. In general, alcohol delivery regulations in most Australian jurisdictions have weaker standards than physical liquor stores across the board. Delivery drivers in many states aren't required to hold a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certification, despite being mandatory for bottle shop servers. In NSW, same-day delivery drivers are required by law to have an RSA and check identification for any same-day delivery, though not for next-day delivery, which can be left unattended.

Stephanie Colbert, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate from the School of Population Health at UNSW Medicine & Health, says that stronger policies are needed to help manage the risks posed by these services while enabling consumer access. "If we have a two-tiered system of regulation that can be exploited, there's a chance it will be," she says. The concern is that increased availability of alcohol in the community, which these services enable, may lead to increases in alcohol consumption and harm without having strong regulations in place and enforced. Some countries, such as Scotland and Ireland, have moved to restrict promotions encouraging people to buy more alcohol than they otherwise would have. Similar restrictions in Australia may reduce the incentive for increased alcohol purchasing.

Journal Information: Stephanie Colbert et al, Cross‐sectional survey of a convenience sample of Australians who use alcohol home delivery services, Drug and Alcohol Review (2023). DOI: 10.1111/dar.13627
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