Alcohol Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic
A Public Health Advisory from SUD RECOVERY CENTERS
By Lauren DeSouza- Master of Public Health, Simon Fraser Public Research University – Canada
Staff Research and Content Writer
© Copyright – SUD RECOVERY CENTERS – A Division of Genesis Behavioral Services, Inc.,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – August 2021 – All rights reserved.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing health crisis that has led to chronic stress and a rise in the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. The sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. increased significantly following the stay-at-home orders announced in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19. Alcohol consumption was significantly higher in April 2020 compared to February 2020, suggesting that people started drinking more as a response to the pandemic.
Increased alcohol consumption includes:
- Having an increased number of drinks per day or per week than normal
- Increased binge drinking episodes
- For men, consuming 5 or more drinks in a two-hour period
- For women, consuming 4 or more drinks in a two-hour period
- Increased excessive alcohol consumption (consuming more than the recommended amounts for men and women)
- For men, consuming more than 4 drinks per day and 14 per week
- For women, consuming more than 3 drinks per day and 7 per week
Why are people drinking more during COVID-19?
Increased alcohol consumption is a common response to collective trauma and was seen following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. The scale, isolation, and prolonged uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to this same sense of collective trauma. The pandemic has seen people lose their social networks and their routines and has generated both financial and emotional stress as people struggle with caring for families, insecure work situations, and health issues. All of these factors contribute to an increase in alcohol use.
Regulations also contributed to increased alcohol consumption following the stay-at-home orders. Restaurants and liquor stores were considered essential services and permitted to remain open while most other businesses were closed. They also offered takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery of alcohol through meal delivery services such as Uber Eats, making alcohol easier to obtain while following the stay-at-home orders.
Some groups are also more vulnerable to excessive alcohol consumption, especially in this time of public health and economic crisis. Those from low-income households are especially vulnerable, as they have been the most hard-hit by the pandemic. Racial and ethnic inequalities across income and health status have led to stress that also makes those from racialized groups more vulnerable to excessive alcohol consumption. Specifically, one study found that alcohol consumption during COVID-19 increased at a greater rate among Black people than White people. It also found that drinking among women increased at a higher rate than among men, which is likely because women carry much of the burden of family stress, which has increased for many with isolation and stay-at-home measures.
As well, those who have a history of alcohol use disorder or other substance use are at a higher risk of excessive drinking as a result of the pandemic. Isolation and physical distancing have made it challenging to access support networks and services, increasing the risk of relapse in this time of stress.
What are the health risks of increased alcohol use?
Increased or excessive alcohol consumption has well- known health risks, including liver disease, breast cancer, depression, accidents and cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Excessive alcohol can also weaken the immune system, which can worsen the body’s ability to fight off and recover from diseases like COVID-19.
Along with these health risks, increased alcohol consumption, combined with the stress of being confined to the home and work or financial stress, may lead to an increase in domestic violence.
Alcohol use also impairs judgement and can lead people into more risky behaviors. During the pandemic, higher-than-normal alcohol consumption can lead to taking risks such as not following public health orders and not physical distancing or quarantining, which can affect the health of the individual and those around them.
- Alcohol consumption has increased as a result of COVID-19, both because of increased stress and regulations that made it easier to access alcohol.
- Increased or excessive alcohol use includes more frequent drinking, consuming more than the recommended amount per day or per week, and/or more binge-drinking episodes.
- Some people are more vulnerable to increased or excessive alcohol use, especially those who have been most affected by the pandemic. This includes those from low-income households and racial and ethnic minorities, and those with a history of alcohol use disorder.
- Increased alcohol use can damage the immune system and create further health problems for those with COVID-19.
If you or someone you know is struggling with increased or excessive alcohol use, reach out for support. At SUD RECOVERY CENTERS, we are just a phone call away.
Barbosa, C., Cowell, A., & W. Dowd. (2021). Alcohol Consumption in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States. Journal of Addiction Medicine:15 (341-344).
Heart and Stroke Foundation. COVID-19 Pandemic Brings New Concerns About Excessive Drinking. Published July 7, 2020. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/07/01/covid-19-pandemic-brings-new-concerns-about-excessive-drinking