Americans over 30 have been drinking more during the coronavirus pandemic compared to this time last year, and there could be consequences to their physical and mental health, researchers reported Tuesday.
Overall frequency of alcohol consumption increased by about 14% from 2019, the researchers reported in the journal JAMA Network Open. That increase averages out to about one additional drinking day per month by 75% of adults.
RAND Corporation sociologist Michael Pollard and colleagues analyzed a nationally representative sample of 1,540 people ages 30 to 80. The participants completed a survey about their drinking habits between April 29 and June 9 of 2019 and then again between May 28 and June 16 of 2020.
The volunteers reported they drank alcohol on more days every week. They also reported increases in the number of drinks they had; the number of heavy drinking days; and the number of alcohol related problems over the last 30 days between 2019 and 2020.
Frequency of drinking increased by 17% among women, 19% among people aged 30 to 59 and by 10% among White people.
Heavy drinking among women increased by 41% — about one additional day of heavy drinking for one in every five women. Nearly one in 10 women, or 39%, reported an increase in alcohol-related problems, the researchers found.
“At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviors, mental health issues and violence,” the World Health Organization said in April.
The researchers say it’s important to watch for whether the increases in alcohol consumption persist over the pandemic, and whether there will be physical and mental health consequences as a result.
A dangerous combination
The uptick in drinking among adults isn’t necessarily a surprise. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Director Dr. George Koob said that the US has seen similar increases in alcohol consumption during other times of crisis, like after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and some recent hurricanes.
However, the increase in drinking during this crisis could be especially dangerous. Experts say it may actually increase the risk of Covid-19 spread and severe illness.
Not only is alcohol often consumed in crowded settings, like bars and parties, said Koob; it lowers a person’s inhibitions, making it more likely people will allow close contact and talk more, raising the likelihood they could spread the virus.
Excessive alcohol use has been linked to a weakened immune system and other negative health effects, also.
“About half the people that have acute respiratory distress syndrome are individuals who have misused alcohol,” said Koob. “We worry that if you’re drinking excessively, that could set you up, if you contract the virus, with a more severe respiratory problem.”
Substance use issues could be on the rise
Experts are also concerned about substance use disorder. Increasing levels of alcohol consumption and sales indicate a rise could