New research shows every week of COVID closure increases harmful drink

Study participants who drank regularly at harmful levels showed that they consumed six drinks per session, compared to two alcoholic drinks for the less frequent alcohol addicts.

Harmful drinking among adults increases the longer they spend at home, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

The research, based on a survey among nearly 2,000 people over the age of 18 in the US, is the first to establish the national link between dangerous alcohol use and life stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated “closures”.

The findings show that the chance of heavy alcohol consumption among alcohol addicts – those who drank five or more drinks for men and four and more for women within two hours – increased by an extra 19% for each week of quitting.

The chance of increased alcohol intake in general for alcohol addicts was more than double that of people who did not drink excessively (60% versus 28%), especially those with depression or a history of the disease.

Conducted by experts at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health, Dallas, the study also highlights that:

  • During the pandemic, liquor drinkers drank an average of four drinks per occasion, compared to two drinks among non-liquor drinkers.
  • Participants who drank at harmful levels during the pandemic would drink a maximum of seven drinks on one occasion. This is compared to a maximum of two per session during the pandemic for those who did not.
  • Living with children in the locker room minimized the chance (by 26%) of turning to the bottle for people in general.

The researchers are now calling for new intervention and prevention strategies for people in isolation with the danger of drinking dangerously. Otherwise, they say, there could be long-term health consequences.

“Increased time spent at home is a life stress that affects drinking, and the Covid-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this tension,” said Sitara Weerakoon, a PhD candidate from the University of Texas.

“Future research should consider the potential for depressive symptoms as a moderator (a factor that changes the impact) in the relationship between the time spent under a shelter-on-site mandate (lock-in) and drinking.

“Additional research is (also) needed to develop the best treatment for people with drug use disorders who are more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.”

The aim of the study was to identify a link between COVID-19-related stressors and changes in alcohol and alcohol use since the pandemic.

The data comes from an online survey completed mid-March to mid-April by 1,982 adults, which coincided with the first U.S. home stay on March 19th. The mean age of participants was 42 and the majority were white (89%) and female (69%).

Based on the responses to the survey, the researchers classified participants as drinkers, drinkers, and non-drinkers. One of the factors analyzed was the duration of lockdown, how many adults or children they attended, current or previous episodes of depression and work status associated with lockdown, such as reduced pay.

On average, each respondent had been locked up for four weeks and spent 21 hours a day at home, with the majority (72%) not leaving for work.

Overall, nearly a third (32%) of participants reported drinking alcohol during the pandemic, while alcohol drinkers increased their intake. However, non-drinkers drink about the same amount of alcohol as before smoking.

Limitations of the study include that the data of the survey itself are reported, and that the question of beverage did not determine a time within which the alcohol was consumed.

In addition, the majority (70%) of the participants were relatively high earners, already associated with the use of dangerous alcohol. According to the authors, future research is needed in a more “general population.”

Reference: “Long Time You Spent During the COVID-19 Pandemic Related to Alcoholic Drinking Among American Adults” by SM Weerakoon, KK Jetelina and G Knell, December 7, 2020, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
DOI: 10.1080 / 00952990.2020.1832508

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