The results of a new study conducted during lockdown reveal that harmful drinking habits have increased during this time, with adults considered as binge drinkers consuming 19% more alcoholic drinks for each week spent in lockdown. These findings highlight the negative health impact of spending long periods in national lockdown.
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Governments will need to consider the various health implications of the restrictions they are setting to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that in attempting to prevent the virus from spreading they are not fueling other health issues.
Binge drinkers at twice the risk of increasing drinking in lockdown
Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health, Dallas, conducted a survey of almost 2,000 US adults above the age of 18 from mid-March to mid-April, at the time when the US had implemented a state-wide stay-at-home order.
The results of the study, published this month in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, show that the longer adults spend in lockdown the more harmful drinking behaviors increase. The study is the first to bring to light the link between the stress induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant lockdowns and harmful drinking.
In particular, binge drinkers, defined as men who consume five or more drinks and women who consume four or more drinks within two hours, are feeling the more significant effects of lockdown, with their alcohol consumption increasing by 19% with each week of lockdown.
In comparison to those who did not drink excessively, binge drinkers were at double the risk of increasing their alcohol intake during lockdown (28% vs 60%). Those with depression or had a history of disease were also at an increased risk.
Below are the study’s key takeaways:
- During the lockdown, binge drinkers drank an average of four drinks per occasion compared with non-binge drinkers’ two drinks.
- Maximum drinks per occasion during lockdown were far higher for binge drinkers in comparison to non-binge drinkers (seven drinks vs two).
- Living with children had a protective effect, reducing the risk of drinking during lockdown by 26%.
Binge drinkers at-risk of alcohol-related health implications
The team allocated survey respondents into groups of binge drinkers, non-binge drinkers, and non-drinkers, based on their responses. They then analyzed numerous factors, such as time spent in lockdown, whether they lived with children, history of depression, and changes in job status as a result of the pandemic. Their analysis revealed that almost a third of respondents reported binge drinking during lockdown, with binge drinkers reporting increasing their alcohol consumption.
Those who were categorized as non-binge drinkers had not increased their drinking during lockdown, identifying binge drinkers as those at risk of alcohol-related health implications brought on by lockdown.
Prevention strategies needed to protect those at-risk
The study’s researchers stress that prevention strategies need to be implemented to prevent those at risk of harmful drinking from increasing their alcohol consumption during lockdown. Without effective prevention strategies, a significant portion of the population could be facing long-term health implications.
A Ph.D. candidate from the University of Texas, Sitara Weerakoon, highlights that “Increased time spent at home is a life stressor that impacts drinking and the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this stress.” Potential preventative strategies may be well-advised to focus on reducing pandemic-induced stress.
The results also suggest that further studies should be conducted to look more closely into the relationship between depression and lockdown drinking habits. There is likely a need to establish preventative strategies to protect those with depression or depressive symptoms from the risk of lockdown-induced heavy drinking.