Int J Soc Psychiatry - (-) 207640231194486 [2023-08-31; online 2023-08-31]
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns arose about a possible rise in alcohol consumption. Early surveys, however, more commonly pointed towards a decrease of alcohol use. But studies based on self-reports may underestimate alcohol use. They also depend on the population sampled. Because of border closures and gastronomy restrictions, countries with centralised alcohol sales provided a unique opportunity to study total domestic consumption during the pandemic without influence of private import or reliance on self-reports. We examined the correlation between alcohol sales and national COVID-19 restrictions in three such countries, Finland, Norway and Sweden. We conducted this study as a mirror image study, comparing alcohol sales during the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic with the two preceding years. We explored hours of daylight/season as potential confounders. We found no relevant change in alcohol sales during the pandemic years for Finland or Sweden. For Norway, there was a level-change in sales, which could be explained by decreased imports. Sales followed a seasonal pattern. In all three countries, the initial pandemic increase in alcohol sales coincided with an underlying annually recurring seasonal variation. The COVID-19 pandemic had less of an impact on alcohol consumption in the three Nordic countries than could intuitively be expected. The increase of alcohol sales at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with a seasonal rise following a pre-pandemic pattern. Therefore, caution should be exercised with drawing conclusions from data with a short time perspective to avoid attribution bias.