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Consumers are binge drinking more during COVID-19 lockdowns, study finds

Researchers worry about how this habit will affect consumers long-term

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Photo (c) Kilito Chan - Getty Images
Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have found that consumers have turned to alcohol to help manage their stress levels. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Taylor and Francis Group has explored the long-term alcohol habits consumers have adopted during 2020. 

According to their findings, consumers are more likely to binge drink if they spend more time at home quarantining.

“Increased time spent at home is a life stressor that impacts drinking, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this stress,” said researcher Sitara Weerakoon. 

More consumers turning to alcohol

To get an idea of how consumers across the country have used alcohol since the start of the pandemic, the researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 adults from mid-March through mid-April. Respondents reported on several life factors, including their current living situation, who they were home with every day, their job status, how long they had spent in lockdown, and their total alcohol consumption. 

The researchers learned that 34 percent of the participants were binge drinking while at home during lockdown, and the likelihood of binge drinking increased by nearly 20 percent for each week the participants were home. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as men who consume five or more drinks in two hours and women who consume four or more drinks in that time. The researchers learned that the heaviest drinkers before the pandemic consumed as many as seven drinks in one sitting while at home during lockdown. 

The study also revealed that those who were binge drinkers before the pandemic were 60 percent more likely to increase their alcohol intake during stay-at-home orders, whereas those who were light drinkers before the pandemic were less than 30 percent as likely to drink more during quarantine. 

In terms of socioeconomic factors, the researchers learned that 70 percent of the participants who were the heaviest drinkers were also making higher-than-average salaries. 

Mental health plays a role

The study revealed an important mental health component that was associated with heavier drinking during the pandemic. According to the researchers, participants who had reported either currently or previously struggling with depression were more likely to binge drink during lockdown orders. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that more work is done to better understand the relationship between alcohol and depression so that support services are better tailored and made more widely available for those in need. 

“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,” Weerakoon said. “Additional research is (also) needed to develop best treatment for people with substance use disorders who may be more susceptible to adverse health outcomes.”

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