Researchers at RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California, and Indiana University School of Public Health, Bloomington, Indiana, published their paper last week examining the pattern of alcohol use and its consequences for Americans during the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic investigated. Their study, entitled “Changes in Adult Alcohol Consumption and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US,” was published in the latest edition of the JAMA Network Open on September 29th.
Researchers Michael Pollard, Joan Tucker and Harold Green write that with the emergence of the highly infectious severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), several measures had to be contained the spread of infection. One of the most important measures to break the chain of transmission was lockdowns and the prevention of gatherings. As more and more people were forced to stay at home, the consumption of alcohol and other substances also changed.
The team writes that according to reports from Nielsen, national alcohol sales increased 54 percent for the week ended March 21, 2020 compared to the same week in 2019. Between 2019 and 2020, online alcohol sales rose a whopping 262 percent, they wrote. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that excessive alcohol consumption during the pandemic may increase health risks and increase the propensity for risky behaviors that are detrimental to overall health.
This study sought to examine person-to-person changes in alcohol consumption and its effects among American adults and to compare them with pre-pandemic statistics.
The study was conducted as a survey using the RAND Corporation’s American Life Panel (ALP). A representative sample of 6,000 adult English or Spanish speaking participants was included for the study.
The data were collected in two halves – waves 1 and 2. The wave included 2,615 participants between the ages of 30 and 80 years. This was between April 29 and June 9, 2019. A total of 1771 participants took part in the survey. Wave 2 data was collected during the pandemic between May 28 and June 16, 2020. During Wave 2, there was a nationwide implementation of the social distancing norm. In wave 2, 58.9 percent of those surveyed in wave 1 completed the survey.
Include interviewed factors and questions asked
- General characteristics such as gender, age, and race / ethnicity
- Number of days alcohol was consumed
- Number of days of heavy drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women in a few hours)
- The average number of beverages consumed over the past 30 days
- 15-point quick inventory of alcohol-related problems over the past 3 months (e.g., “I took stupid risks while drinking”)
What was found?
The study included a total of 1,540 adults with a mean age of 56.6 years and 57.3 percent women.
The overall results showed:
- The frequency of alcohol consumption increased overall
- An increase of 0.74 days from the average of 5.48 days in 2019 for men and 0.78 days from the average of 4.58 days in 2019 for women
- Alcohol consumption in men and women rose 14 percent and 17 percent from baseline, respectively
- For participants between 30 and 59 years of age, 0.93 days or an increase of 19 percent were recorded
- Non-Hispanic whites saw an increase of 0.66 days, or a 10 percent increase from the baseline of 6.46 days in 2019
- Among three-quarters of the population, alcohol was consumed one more day per month, the researchers wrote
- In women, there was an increase of 0.18 days of heavy drinking from a baseline of 0.44 days in 2019. This was an increase of 41 percent from 2019.
- In 1 out of 5 women there was an increase in alcohol consumption of an average of 1 day during the pandemic.
- For women, the number of points on the scale for the short inventory of problems rose by 39 percent. This showed a significant increase in alcohol-related problems regardless of consumption level in almost 10 percent of women.
Conclusions and implications
Michael Pollard, lead study author and sociologist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, said in a statement, “We have received anecdotal information about people buying and consuming more alcohol, but this is one of the first survey-based pieces of information to show how much Alcohol use has increased during the pandemic. “” Alcohol use can have significant adverse health consequences. This information suggests another possibility that the pandemic could affect the physical and mental health of Americans, added Pollard.
The study’s authors write, “In addition to a number of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to or exacerbate existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, which can themselves increase during COVID-19.” They indicated that the effects were most significant in women, younger and non-Hispanic whites, and this shows that there is room for awareness campaigns targeting these populations in order to reduce alcohol consumption and lessen the adverse effects.
The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.