Study reveals decrease in alcohol use among young adults during COVID-19

In a recent study published in Nature Mental Health, researchers investigated the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on young individuals' alcohol usage and difficulties.

They also assessed disruptions and theoretical reasons for these alterations, particularly those related to excessive drinking and drinking behaviors.

Study: Changes in alcohol consumption and alcohol problems before and after the COVID-19 pandemic: a prospective study in heavy drinking young adults. Image Credit: Lomb/Shutterstock.comStudy: Changes in alcohol consumption and alcohol problems before and after the COVID-19 pandemic: a prospective study in heavy drinking young adults. Image Credit: Lomb/Shutterstock.com

Background

COVID-19 has profoundly influenced people's daily lives, especially children and adolescents. There is a rising interest in COVID-19-related alterations in alcohol intake. However, most research has been cross-sectional, depending on retrospective accounts of pre-pandemic alcohol use.

Longitudinal studies have used retrospective reports, but limited previous longitudinal research has incorporated numerous evaluations before and after the epidemic began.

Understanding the reasons why a few individuals drank more or less during the epidemic is critical for developing effective alcohol interventions.

About the study

In the present prospective study, researchers compared alcohol use and trends before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. They used individual growth models to analyze the trajectories of changes in drinking habits following COVID-19 onset.

The researchers investigated theoretically informed processes, such as increases in drinking to cope, negative affectivity, and lonely drinking, to understand pandemic-related changes in alcohol intake and issues. They conducted the study between February 2018 and March 2022 using the 'pre-post' model to compare growth models. 

The study comprised 234 young individuals aged 21–29 years recruited from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area using local fliers, internet ads, and the University of Pittsburgh's Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Research Participant Registry.

The team generated several correlated slopes and parallel process models to determine whether changes in negative affectivity, coping drinking motivations, and lonely drinking were associated with changes in alcohol consumption patterns and issues.

To further understand the probable processes behind changes in alcohol intake, patterns, and difficulties from pre- to post-pandemic start, the researchers examined changes in negative affectivity, drinking to cope with motivations, and lonely drinking.

They also assessed sex differences in the amount of pre- and post-pandemic onset changes in alcohol consumption, alcohol issues, and mechanism factors.

The team used the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) and the Brief Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire (B-YAACQ) to assess alcohol-related problems.

They used the Drinking Motivations Questionnaire-Revised (DMQ-R) to examine drinking motivations and the Personality Inventory for the DSM-5 (PID-5) to assess negative affectivity.

They used multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM) for analysis. Observations before March 16, 2020, were designated pre-pandemic, while those made on or after March 16, 2020, were classified as post-pandemic.

Results

The study discovered significant decreases in alcohol consumption amount and frequency from pre- to post-pandemic start, primarily due to reduced weekend alcohol intake frequency and quantity.

Negative affectivity reduced as solo drinking rose, with no significant change in coping drinking motivations. Total drinking frequency and amount fell by 0.6 days and 12.8 drinks, respectively. 

Weekend drinking behaviors were significantly responsible for these reductions, with weekend frequency and quantity falling by 0.5 days and 7.9 drinks compared to 0.1 days and 4.9 drinks during the week. In addition, the participants reduced their drinks per day by 1.1 drinks.

Alcohol-related difficulties also decreased, with AUDIT and B-YAACQ scores down by 2.1 and 1.9 points, respectively. Solitary drinking rose by 3.8 percent points from before to after the epidemic began.

Negative affectivity and coping drinking reasons were the same before and after COVID-19, and the amplitude of COVID-19 onset effects decreased marginally.

However, there was considerable between-individual heterogeneity in the level of changes from before to after COVID-19 commencement, indicating that people experienced different magnitudes of change during COVID-19.

Gender did not influence the degree of COVID-19-related changes for the study variables in gender moderation models. Females showed a lower before-after COVID-19 slope in alcohol intake per day than men, indicating a slower fall in the daily intake after COVID-19 initiation.

Alterations in alcohol intake and difficulties were not associated with changes in reasons for drinking to cope, lonely drinking, or altered negative affectivity.

The researchers discovered no significant variations in alcohol usage between males and females, except a smaller decrease in drinks per day for females before and after the pandemic began.

However, both genders had considerable reductions in alcohol consumption, negative affectivity, and increases in solitary drinking.

Conclusion

The study findings revealed that young individuals who drink significantly reduced their alcohol use and had fewer issues once the pandemic began. Negative affectivity reduced, lonely drinking rose, whereas coping drinking motivations remained the same.

The team noted significant variation in alcohol intake, drinking behaviors, and issues between pre- and post-pandemic starts, although this was unaffected by gender.

Future research should follow a 28-day timeline and take an individual-centered approach to improve understanding of the pandemic's impact on diverse groups.

Journal reference:
Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is an oral and maxillofacial physician and radiologist based in Pune, India. Her academic background is in Oral Medicine and Radiology. She has extensive experience in research and evidence-based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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