Stay-at-home orders in many US states, which began in early 2020, have been associated with increased alcohol sales, particularly via online outlets. The World Health Organization issued a warning in April 2020 that alcohol use may potentially exacerbate poor health during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. How has the pandemic influenced individuals’ drinking behavior, and which groups have felt this influence the most?
In a survey study involving data from the RAND Corporation American Life Panel, which is a nationally representative sample of Americans age 18 years and order, researchers queried the self-reported experiences of 1,540 adults (Pollard MS et al, JAMA Network Open 2020;3(9):e2022942). Survey completion rates were 57% with a cumulative response rate of 9% before and after the widespread implementation of COVID-19-associated physical distancing. The authors found that frequency of alcohol consumption increased overall (14% over the baseline or 5.48 days over the past 30 days), and this increase was strongest among women, adults ages 30–59 years, and those identifying as non-Hispanic white individuals. Regarding heavy drinking, there was an increase of 41% over baseline in heavy drinking days per month, defined as 4 or more drinks for women within a couple hours.
The study was limited by the self-report of its results. However, these findings raise concern that alcohol use—which may exacerbate other health problems, such as anxiety and depression—may be on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Women, younger individuals, and non-Hispanic white individuals may require increased, targeted public health messaging and education in the clinic about the harms of unhealthy alcohol use.