Third of Americans binge drink during COVID pandemic, but lockdowns make problem worse


Alarming new study reveals that binge drinkers are taking down four to seven drinks in a single sitting.


DALLAS, Texas — From social isolation to fears about job loss, the stresses of living in quarantine can have a devastating impact on millions of people during COVID-19. For drinkers, the problems of living in lockdown may be even worse. A new study finds harmful drinkers, or binge drinkers, consume more the longer they stay in COVID isolation.

The study of nearly 2,000 American adults is the first to reveal the connection between alcohol use and stress triggered by pandemic-related shutdowns. The results find binge drinkers consume an extra 19 percent for every week in lockdown. The odds of drinkers having more alcohol is more than twice as high among harmful drinkers compared to those who don’t drink to excess (60% vs 28%). This is especially true among drinkers with depression or a history of bingeing.

Overall, one in three Americans report binge drinking during the coronavirus pandemic. The average person also reports spending about four weeks in lockdown this year; spending 21 hours a day at home. More than seven in 10 people in the survey did not even leave their home for work.

COVID’s hidden hazards

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health examined 1,982 people over 18 between mid-March and mid-April. This is when the first statewide stay-at-home orders began to roll out across the U.S.

The team finds binge drinkers consume around four alcoholic beverages per occasion during the pandemic. That’s double what non-binge drinkers are consuming. Adults who report drinking harmful levels of alcohol during their isolation are having as many as seven drinks at one time. Having children or others in the house only contributed to a 26-percent lower chance of drinking.

“Increased time spent at home is a life stressor that impacts drinking and the Covid-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this stress,” says Sitara Weerakoon, a PhD candidate from the University of Texas, in a media release.

“Future research should consider the potential for depressive symptoms acting as a moderator (a factor that changes the impact) in the relation between the time spent under a shelter-in-place mandate (lockdown) and binge drinking.”

Is binge drinking a problem of the wealthy?

Study authors note the report has a few limitations, including that all the data comes from self-reporting of the participants. Overall, the Dallas team categorized Americans into three groups, binge drinkers, non-binge drinkers, and non-drinkers.

The respondents had an average age of 42 and were mostly white (89%) and female (69%). Along with that, a majority of Americans in the study are relatively high earners. Researchers note such individuals have a tendency to display hazardous alcohol use. The study analyzed how several factors affected these subjects, including each person’s length of time in lockdown, number of children at home, episodes of depression, and drops in income during COVID.

Researchers say future research on the link between alcohol and lockdown needs to focus more on the “generalizable population.”

The study appears in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

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