Adults started drinking more alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic, but women not only drank more frequently, but also reported significant increases in heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems, a national survey found.
Overall frequency of alcohol consumption among adults ages 30-80 increased 14% versus 2019, with increases of 17% for women, reported Michael Pollard, PhD, of RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, which administers the survey, and colleagues.
Other demographic groups experiencing increases in frequency of alcohol consumption included non-Hispanic whites (up 19% vs 2019) and adults ages 30-59 (up 10%), the team wrote in a research letter in JAMA Network Open.
Nielsen surveys showed a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week of March 21 versus a year ago, Pollard and colleagues noted, as stay-at-home orders began in U.S. states and the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use during this time may “exacerbate health concerns and risk-taking behaviors.”
“Health systems may need to educate consumers through print or online media about increased alcohol use during the pandemic and identify factors associated with susceptibility and resilience to the impacts of COVID-19,” Pollard and co-authors wrote.
They examined data from the RAND Corporation American Life Panel, a nationally representative probability-sampled panel of 6,000 English or Spanish-speaking participants, weighted to match certain demographic characteristics. In this study, the investigators looked at 2,615 panel members ages 30-80.
Overall, 1,771 completed the wave 1 baseline survey from April 29 to June 9, 2019, and wave 2 data were collected from May 28 to June 16, 2020. The completion rate for wave 2 was 58.9% of all wave 1 invitations.
Heavy drinking was defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours and the average number of drinks consumed in the last 30 days. The 15-item Short Inventory of Problems looked at adverse consequences tied to alcohol use in the past 3 months.
The current sample of 1,540 adults had a median age of 56, about 57% were women, and 71% were non-Hispanic white.
Frequency of alcohol consumption in the past 30 days among adults increased by 0.74 days over the baseline of 5.48 days in 2019. Women had a 2019 baseline of 4.58 days, with a 0.78 day increase in 2020, and non-Hispanic whites had a baseline of 6.46 days, with a 0.66 day increase in 2020.
Mean heavy drinking days for women increased 41% (0.18 days) from the 2019 baseline of 0.44 days per month. Women also showed a 39% increase in Short Inventory of Problems scores — “indicative of increased alcohol-related problems independent of consumption level for nearly 1 in 10 women,” the researchers wrote.
Limitations to the data, Pollard and co-authors said, include that it was self-reported and subject to social desirability bias, and that not all baseline respondents contributed to wave 2 data.
“Nonetheless, these 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 researchers concluded.
Pollard disclosed support form the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.