According to a new survey published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, harmful drinking among US adults increased the longer they were in lockdown during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The survey, published online December 7, 2020, showed that the odds of heavy alcohol consumption among binge drinkers—those who, within 2 hours, consumed ≥5 drinks for men and ≥4 for women—increased an extra 19% for every week of lockdown.
“This study is the first to identify specific stressors associated with binge drinking, and increased alcohol consumption among binge drinkers, during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote study authors from the University of Texas Health Science Center, School of Public Health, Dallas. “Overall, we found that binge drinkers increased their alcohol consumption during the early stages of the pandemic, while the majority of non-binge drinkers drank about the same during this period.
To identify a link between COVID-19-related stress factors and changes in alcohol consumption and binge drinking since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1982 adults aged ≥18 years (average age=42 years; 89% white; 69% women) completed an online survey between mid-March to mid-April. The timing coincided with the first US state-wide shelter-in-place order on March 19, according to study authors.
Researchers categorized participants into 1 of 3 groups: binge drinkers, non-binge drinkers, or non-drinkers. The factors analyzed were:
- Length of time spent in lockdown
- How many adults or children they were living with
- Current or previous episodes of depression
- Job status related to lockdown (eg, decreased pay, temporarily laid off)
Overall, 34% of the sample reported binge drinking during the pandemic, and the odds of increased alcohol intake for binge drinkers was more than double that of non-drinkers (60% vs 28%).
Results also showed:
- On average, binge drinkers drank 4 drinks per occasion vs 2 drinks among non-binge drinkers.
- Participants who drank at harmful levels would consume 7 drinks maximum on 1 occasion vs a maximum of 2 per session for those who did not.
- Living with children minimally reduced the odds (by 26%) of drinking for people in general.
After adjusting for sociodemographics, results showed for every 1-week increase in time spent at home during COVID-19, there was 1.21 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.08-1.35) greater odds of binge drinking.
Also, binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol intake vs those who did not (adjusted odds ratio=1.80, 95% CI: 1.15-2.81).
Limitations to the study include the survey data being self-reported, the fact that the survey question on binge-drinking did not specify a time within which the alcohol was consumed, and the majority (70%) of participants were relatively high earners (a factor already linked to hazardous alcohol intake).
“Future research should consider the potential for depressive symptoms acting as a moderator (a factor that changes the impact) in the relation between the time spent under a shelter-in-place mandate (lockdown) and binge drinking,” said co-author Sitara Weerakoon, a PhD candidate from the University of Texas Health Science Center in a press release. “Additional research is (also) needed to develop best treatment for people with substance use disorders who may be more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.”