How did alcohol consumption change during the COVID-19 pandemic in the state of Wisconsin?

In a recent study posted to the medRxiv* preprint server, researchers evaluated the patterns of alcohol use at three different time points during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in Wisconsin.

Study: Changes in Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Wisconsin. Image Credit: dan.nikonov/Shutterstock
Study: Changes in Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Wisconsin. Image Credit: dan.nikonov/Shutterstock

Background

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak elevated stress among the general public across the globe. It is known that individuals consume more alcohol at times of stress, such as disease outbreaks, economic burdens, and natural calamities. Wisconsin has been reported to be a heavy-drinking state in the United States (US).

About the study

In the present population-based COVID-19 community impact survey study, researchers assessed changing trends of alcohol consumption during three different phases (or waves) of COVID-19 in the state of Wisconsin.

A web-based survey was emailed to 5,502 SHOW (survey of the health of Wisconsin) study participants to obtain data on several COVID-19-associated topics during three waves of the pandemic between 2020 and 2021. In addition, individuals were telephonically contacted, but telephone respondents were excluded from the analysis. The study included more than 25 professors and investigators from the state’s University in Madison.

The period between May and June 2020 denoted the first wave, January and February 2021 denoted the second wave, and June 2021 denoted the third wave. For the analysis, 1,290, 1,868, and 1,585 individuals were sampled during the first, second, and third waves, respectively, to capture COVID-19-associated beliefs, behaviors, and perceptions and how COVID-19 affected their physical, emotional, and mental health and quality of life.

Alcohol use changes were assessed by self-reported age, race, sex, level of education, yearly income, depression and anxiety status, presence of children at home, type of employment, and COVID-19-associated employment changes. All individuals who completed the online surveys were provided digital gift cards worth $25.0.

Results and discussion

The surveys were completed by 1,403, 1,889, and 1,615 individuals during the first, second, and third pandemic waves, respectively. During the COVID-19 waves, anxious and younger individuals who had attained a baccalaureate degree and individuals having children at home reported a significantly greater likelihood of consuming more alcohol.

Depressed individuals with remote work and high annual incomes showed a greater likelihood of reporting higher alcohol intake in the surveys pertaining to the first and second COVID-19 waves. In the first survey, individuals reporting employment changes during the COVID-19 pandemic and belonging to the non-White race showed a greater likelihood of consuming more alcohol. During the first, second, and third COVID-19 waves, 23%, 19%, and 15% of survey respondents reported greater alcohol consumption, respectively.

During the first, second, and third waves, 31%, 25%, and 20% of anxious individuals reported increased drinking, respectively. The proportion of individuals having a baccalaureate degree reported greater alcohol consumption during the first, second, and third waves were 28%, 22%, and 19%, respectively, compared to individuals who had received high school level education or lower (15%, 15%, or 13%, respectively), or individuals with some education of college-level (20%, 17%, or 11%, respectively).

During all waves, the odds of increased drinking during the pandemic were 2.0-fold higher among younger individuals in comparison to 60- to 74-year-old individuals and ≥3.0-fold higher in comparison to individuals aged ≥75 years. During the first, second, and third COVID-19 waves, 35%, 26%, and 21% of individuals having children at home showed a greater likelihood of reporting higher alcohol intake, respectively, compared to 18%, 16%, and 13% of individuals).

Whites and non-Whites showed a greater likelihood of reporting comparable and lesser alcohol consumption, respectively, during the first wave; however, the drinking behaviors were comparable in the second and third waves. Survey respondents who reported their health status as fair or poor during the second wave showed a lower likelihood of reporting higher alcohol intake than individuals documenting a better status of health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, anxious and depressed individuals may have had limited access to anxiety-treating interventions and therapies and might have medicated themselves with alcohol. Having children at home during COVID-19, with remote schooling, could have elevated the stress levels among household adults.

In Wisconsin, younger individuals are more involved in drinking. Those who have attained a baccalaureate degree or higher education may have a better socioeconomic status or feel that consuming more alcohol increases acceptance. The individuals may also have better access to alcohol due to financial means for alcohol purchase in times of COVID-19-associated financial constraints.

Conclusion

Overall, the study findings showed that there could be subcategories of high-risk individuals residing in Wisconsin, such as anxious individuals of younger age with a baccalaureate degree or higher educational attainment and having children at home, at an elevated risk of the detrimental impact of heavy alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. The high-risk individuals documented consistently greater alcohol consumption with no reduction even after 15 months of the commencement of SARS-CoV-2 infection-associated lockdowns.

*Important notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Dr. based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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