People Drinking More to Cope With Pandemic, Survey Finds

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(CN) — If you’ve found yourself having an extra drink or two than normal these days, you’re not alone: A new survey shows a spike in alcohol consumption following the stay-at-home orders that were part of the Covid-19 pandemic response, with women in particular increasing their happy hours by 41%.

Details of the survey by the RAND Corporation are published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“We’ve had anecdotal information about people buying and consuming more alcohol, but this is some of the first survey-based information that shows how much alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic,” said lead other Michael Pollard, sociologist at RAND. “Alcohol consumption can have significant negative health consequences, so this information suggests another way that the pandemic may be affecting the physical and mental health of Americans.”

The world has entered a state of uncertainty since Covid-19 became a pandemic, and people everywhere have felt emotional distress as a response. For many people and communities, the status quo has changed, which can leave people feeling insecure and can lead to coping with unhealthy behaviors. This is especially true for people with underlying health conditions and health care providers on the front lines.

The RAND Social and Economic division is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to identifying challenges facing people of the world and improving quality of life everywhere, specifically in the arena of policymaking. After the Nielsen Corporation reported a staggering increase of alcohol sales — up 54% during the week of March 21 and a spike of 262% in online sales compared to last year — the World Health Organization warned about the dangers of drinking during a pandemic. RAND then sought to look at this trend on a person-to-person level and how it has affected individuals, as well as how this affects adults from different demographic backgrounds.

They conducted a two-part survey of 1,540 adults involved with the RAND American Life panel, who were asked about their drinking habits since spring compared to last year. Participants were also asked about the frequency of their alcohol consumption during the first and second wave of Covid-19 infections, collecting data from April 29 to June 9 and again from May 28 to June 16.

The researchers looked for trends of heavy drinking, which they defined for men as five or more drinks within a few hours and for women as four or more drinks, as well as the number of alcoholic beverages consumed in a month. Some of the questions looked for how this drinking may have resulted in negative consequences such as taking more risks because of impaired judgment.

They found that since the beginning of the pandemic, American adults aged 30-59 increased their drinking by 19%. Women did 17% more drinking while non-Hispanic white adults drank 10% more. The average was approximately 14% among adults over 30 years old. Furthermore, 3 out of 4 adults were found to consume alcohol one day more per month than before. 

Women experienced the biggest change in their drinking habits, with 1 out of 5 women drinking once more a day per month, as well as a 41% increase in heavy drinking. One in 10 women reported alcohol-related problems, a 39% increase.

The authors note a concern with this uptick in alcohol consumption is the exacerbation or development of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Similar studies have found that for many people, stay-at-home orders and indefinite periods of isolation brought up a slew of negative emotions including stress, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion and more. Not to mention that Covid-19 has claimed an unfathomable number of lives and loved ones are dealing not only with stress of the unprecedented events but also with grief and mourning. 

The results shed light on an issue that might have been going on under our noses and highlights the need for health care providers and loved ones to pay attention and normalize seeking mental health services. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also released statements regarding mental health in the pandemic, identifying those who are most at risk of stress from the current crises and providing a list of resources and alternative coping mechanisms besides substance use. The agency recommends mindful practices like breathing exercises and meditation, healthy eating and regular exercise, a balanced sleep schedule, reaching out to others when needed and most of all knowing when it’s time to ask for help.

The researchers call for awareness and urge adults not to forget about the dangers of excessive drinking, and for more research to look into the pandemic’s damaging effects on people’s mental and physical health, especially if alcohol consumption continues to spike.

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