Alcohol Use During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Alcohol Use During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Jim Windell

           Have the drinking habits of American adults changed during the pandemic? Do adults drink more during a time when many cities and states have issued stay-at-home orders?

           A study led by Washington State University researchers finds alcohol use changed almost immediately for many people when they were required to stay at home. In fact, the studies found, one in four adults reported a change in alcohol use.

          The study, published recently in Frontiers in Psychiatry, surveyed more than 900 twin pairs from the Washington State Twin Registry from March 26 to April 5, 2020, just after stay-at-home orders were issued in Washington on March 23. An estimated 14% of survey respondents said they drank more alcohol than the week prior and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink alcohol and those whose use stayed the same.

           The researchers conducted the study with twins so that they could look at whether changes in alcohol use and mental health were mediated by genetic or shared environmental factors. Twins raised in the same family share many formative experiences and., in addition, twins also have common genetics with fraternal twins sharing approximately half of their genes while identical twins share all of their genes.

           Some adults decreased their alcohol consumption. The study showed that the 11% who decreased their drinking also had higher levels of stress and anxiety than the groups with no change. This suggests that any change in alcohol use may be associated with mental health issues. The study did not examine the reasons behind the link between a decrease in drinking and increase in stress and anxiety. However, lead author of the study, Ally Avery, a scientific operations manager at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, said that one possibility is that these were social drinkers who were missing out on after-work happy hours and other occasions where they drank with friends.

           In regard to the increase in drinking, Avery said, "We expected that down the road people might turn to alcohol after the stay-at-home orders were issued, but apparently it happened right off the bat." Avery went on to say that the study results shows the need to make sure there is more mental health support since the pandemic had an impact on people right away.

           Although the researchers found that the association between changes in alcohol use and stress and anxiety were relatively small, still the link between the pandemic, alcohol use, and stress and anxiety is concerning, according to Avery.

          The question that Avery and her associates continue to explore is whether increased drinking persists and whether it becomes a bigger problem as the quarantine and stay-at-home orders go on.

             To read the journal article, go to:

Ally R. Avery, Siny Tsang, Edmund Y. W. Seto, Glen E. Duncan. Stress, Anxiety, and Change in Alcohol Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings Among Adult Twin PairsFrontiers in Psychiatry, 2020; 11 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.571084

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