Study data published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse outlines the relationship between alcohol abuse and isolation due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In a survey of adults in the United States, more time spent at home was associated with increased odds of binge drinking. Although this relationship was more pronounced among adults with a prior history of depression or anxiety, the association was observed among individuals of all backgrounds.

Investigators developed a web-based, self-report questionnaire that captured binge-drinking behaviors and changes in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was disseminated via social media platforms to anyone living in the United States and older than 18.

The primary outcome was incidence of binge drinking in the sample. Binge drinking was defined as having at least 4 or 5 alcoholic drinks on 1 occasion for women and men, respectively.

The survey also measured various sociodemographic and clinical factors, including age, sex, race/ethnicity, household composition, employment status, prior history of alcohol abuse, and prior history of psychiatric symptoms. Exposures of interest were COVID-19-related stressors, such as duration of shelter-in-place orders, changes in job status, and current depression or anxiety symptoms.


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Multivariable logistic regression models were used to assess the relationship between COVID-19-related factors and binge drinking. Models were adjusted for sociodemographic variables and anxiety and depression.

A total of 1982 individuals responded to the survey, 69% of them women. Their mean age was 42.1 plus or minus 13.6 years, 74.6% reported an annual household income of $80,000 or more, and 42.5% lived in an urban area. Participants reported sheltering in place for an average of 3.8 plus or minus 1.0 weeks. Respondents spent a daily average of 21.4 out of 24 hours at home.

Overall, 32.2% of the total sample reported drinking more alcohol during the pandemic compared with the pre-pandemic period. In regression models adjusted for sociodemographic factors, each 1-week increase in time spent under a shelter-in-place order was associated with 1.19-fold greater odds of binge drinking (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.06-1.34).

Households with children had lower odds of binge drinking compared with households without children (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 0.74; 95% CI, 0.58-0.94). Individuals with prior or current depressive symptoms were significantly more likely to report binge drinking than individuals without depression (AOR, 1.80; 95% CI, 1.15-2.81). This association was more pronounced among individuals with both a history of depression diagnosis and current depressive symptoms (AOR, 3.37; 95% CI, 1.67-6.81).

Results from this survey outline the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on substance abuse behaviors in US adults. Future research should focus on ways to mitigate binge drinking behaviors while individuals are isolated at home.

A limitation to this study was the fact that the survey sample was not representative of the larger US population. Results should be extrapolated with care.

“The findings of this study indicate that COVID-19 stressors are related to alcohol consumption and binge drinking among adults residing in the [United States],” investigators wrote. “This highlights the need to consider the ancillary…health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could have long-lasting population health consequences.”

Reference

Weerakoon SM, Jetelina KK, Knell G. Longer time spent at home during COVID-19 pandemic is associated with binge drinking among US adults. Published online December 7, 2020. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. doi:10.1080/00952990.2020.1832508