The novel coronavirus pandemic forced many countries into lockdown, requiring people to stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The dramatic change to life has left many people in distress, affecting psychological and emotional wellbeing.
Some people have resorted to alcohol to relieve the stress tied to the global health crisis, a survey by the Australian National University (ANU) reports.
The study suggests that, for some people, the stress experienced due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic changed their relationship with alcohol. It found that almost 20 percent of people drank more under lockdown than they usually did.
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Women are drinking more
The study was based on the May 2020 ANUpoll, which collected information from more than 3,200 participants from 18 years old and above. The data was mainly collected through an online platform, while others reported their answers via a phone call.
The team analyzed the frequency of alcohol consumption, comparing data to both the National Health Survey and the National Drug Strategy Household Survey.
The survey reports that women substantially drank more alcohol than men, as they took on increased childcare activities.
Roughly 15.5 percent of males reported increased alcohol consumption, compared to 18.1 percent of females.
"We show that the frequency of alcohol consumption during COVID-19 is slightly higher for males than it was 2-3 years previously and substantially higher for females," the study reported.
Women, particularly when schools were closed, and all children were at home, drank more, the researchers reported.
"Additional stress was on females who maintained their paid work hours, but on top of that increased their unpaid work," lead researcher Nicholas Biddle said.
"Whereas for males it was in some ways the opposite, it was males who had more time on their hands for whom alcohol consumption has gone up," he added.
Other study findings
Of the 20 percent who said they drank more alcohol during the lockdown, almost one-third said they began drinking three to four more drinks each week. Meanwhile, about 26.4 percent said they had ramped up their alcohol intake by more than five drinks per week.
The study also highlights the reasons why people resorted to drinking during the coronavirus lockdown. For both sexes, the most common reason was spending more time at home.
In women, the second most common response in the survey on why they drink more is the increased stress experienced. On the other hand, males reported boredom as the second most common reason why they drank alcohol as driven by the loss of a job or reduced working hours.
"For females whose main role was caring, 28.3 percent reported that they increased their alcohol consumption. For those for whom it isn't their main role, the self-reported increase was only 21.4 percent," the researchers said.
"The spread of COVID-19 appears to have increased the rate of psychological distress in Australia, and our data shows that this may have led to some people increasing their consumption of alcohol," the researchers concluded.
The World Health Organization (WHO) urged people to steer away from drinking alcohol during the pandemic. The health agency said there were other harmful effects of drinking alcohol, making people more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. It emphasizes that alcohol compromises the body's immune system and boosts the risk of adverse health outcomes.
Alcohol consumption in Australia
In a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, most Australians aged 14 years old and above consume alcohol. The average consumption of alcohol among people aged 15 and over is 2.72 drinks per day per consumer from 2017 to 2018.
Australia's health agency recommends that to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease, both men and women should drink no more than ten standard drinks each day and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.