U.S. adults appear to be drinking alcohol more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic than they were during the same time last year, suggests a study published in JAMA Network Open.
“In addition to a range of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol use may lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, which may themselves be increasing during COVID-19,” wrote Michael S. Pollard, Ph.D., of the RAND Corporation and colleagues.
Pollard and colleagues used data from 1,540 adults aged 30 to 80 who completed both waves of a RAND Corporation national survey. The baseline survey took place from April 29 to June 9, 2019, and the second wave of the survey was conducted from May 28 to June 16, 2020.
The researchers compared the number of days that the participants reported any alcohol use and heavy alcohol use, as well as the average number of drinks consumed over the past 30 days before and during the pandemic. Heavy drinking was defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women over a couple of hours. The researchers used the 15-item Short Inventory of Problems (SIP) scale to assess adverse consequences associated with alcohol use within the past three months, asking participants to respond to statements such as “I have taken foolish risks when I have been drinking.”
On average, past month alcohol use increased from 5.48 to 6.22 days among all respondents, a 14% increase from 2019 to 2020. Women’s alcohol consumption appeared to be particularly impacted by the pandemic, the authors noted: Past month alcohol use increased 17% among women, heavy drinking days increased by 41%, and scores on the SIP scale increased by 39%.
“[T]hese results suggest that examination of whether increases in alcohol use persist as the pandemic continues and whether psychological and physical well-being are subsequently affected may be warranted,” the authors wrote.
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Pandemic Creates Challenges, New Opportunities for Treating Patients With Substance Use Disorder.”