According to a new study, during the early stages of the coronavirus lockdown, heavy drinking ‘increased sharply’, particularly among women.
Researchers from the RAND Corporation surveyed 1,540 adults from the US during the peak of coronavirus to determine any changes in drinking habits.
The team found that binge drinking among women – defined as four or more drinks within a couple of hours – soared by 41 per cent over the previous year.
The study authors also warned that the increase in alcohol consumption during lockdown could lead to worsening mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Participants involved in the study had been questioned about their drinking habits in the Spring of 2019 – and then again in Spring 2020 during the pandemic shutdown.
The study also revealed that the frequency of drinking increased by 14 per cent among adults over the age of 30 and by 19 per cent among those aged 30 to 59.
Lead author Professor Michael Pollard, a sociologist at RAND, said this backs up anecdotal evidence that people were consuming more alcohol during the lockdown.
Nielsen reported a 54 per cent increase in the US sales of alcohol at the end of March 2020 compared to the week before and online sales were up 262 per cent.
‘This is some of the first survey-based information that shows how much alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic,’ he explained.
‘Alcohol can have negative health consequences, so this information suggests another way that the pandemic may be affecting physical and mental health.’
Researchers say care providers, behaviour health providers and family members should be aware of the risks of increased alcohol use among family and friends.
The team also recommend health officials may need to use print or online media to educate consumers about the risks of increased alcohol use.
Pollard said that the findings also suggest that future research should examine whether increases in alcohol use persist as the pandemic continues.
Work could also examine whether psychological and physical wellbeing are subsequently affected as a result of increased alcohol consumption.
As all of the participants self-reported their alcohol consumption, the authors say this could lead to a ‘social desirability bias’ resulting in them under-reporting.
‘Nonetheless, these results suggest that examination of whether increases in alcohol use persist as the pandemic continues and whether psychological and physical well-being are subsequently affected may be warranted,’ the authors wrote.
The results were published as a research letter in the journal JAMA Network Open.