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County sees increase in alcohol sales during pandemic

By Philip Sayblack

For the Washington Daily News

Alcohol sales in Beaufort County have increased during the pandemic.

Data from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control system shows that between March 2020 – when the COVID-19 pandemic first started impacting the United States – and March 2021, alcohol sales countywide increased by more than $50,000. By July 2020, countywide alcohol sales peaked at more than $700,000.

By comparison sales decreased each month this year from January until June in comparison to the same time frame last year. Sales numbers peaked again in July, however, as the Delta variant started to spread across the country, topping $740,000 countywide. Throughout the course of the pandemic, the majority of the county’s sales took place at the Carolina Avenue and John Small Avenue ABC stores in Washington.

“We did see alcohol sales go up countywide during the pandemic,” said Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood. “From the information that I have, it shows that people were buying their own alcohol and not buying it at, say, restaurants.”

Despite the marked increases in sales, alcohol-related violations — such as underage possession and driving while impaired — remained flat throughout that time, according to stat data.

“It makes me feel good to know that even with sales having increased during the pandemic, people were buying and drinking their alcohol responsibly,” said Washington Police Chief Stacy Drakeford.

From a health standpoint, Beaufort County health officials say the increase in sales shouldn’t be tied directly to increases in cases of alcoholism and other related conditions, given that there are several other factors at play — the stress of the pandemic and the time of year, to name a couple.

“We did see an increase statewide in emergency room visits between 2019 and 2020 in relation to alcohol and substance abuse,” said Kelley Newman, a nurse practitioner with the health department. “While many of the people who utilize Beaufort County Health Department’s behavioral and mental health services are not using it to handle alcoholism, those people would meet the criteria for being alcoholic.

“It would suffice to say that people nowadays are turning to alcohol and substance abuse out of the mental and emotional strain of the pandemic,” added Newman. “Looking at that and the increase in ER visits that I mentioned, it is concerning that there are people who are coping alone through their struggles with alcohol. It shows that there are people out there who are turning to alcohol and substance abuse to cope.”