An Early Effect of COVID-19 Disruption: Drinking to Cope with Distress

Using alcohol to cope with distress was associated with increased drinking during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study. Adults experiencing greater depression or lower social connectedness, and those with children under age 18, were among those at risk for drinking to cope. The COVID-19 pandemic brought extensive disruptions to daily life, involving elevated stress among the general public. This increased the likelihood of people using alcohol to cope, a motive linked to solitary drinking, heavier drinking, and alcohol-related problems. At the same time, social distancing and closures meant that access to healthier supports, such as counseling and recreation, was reduced. The study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research explored adult drinkers’ use of alcohol to cope with distress during the early pandemic, with the goal of informing interventions to address long-term alcohol-related harms.

Motivational theories of alcohol use emphasize individuals’ varying reasons for drinking, including internal distress. Researchers applied this lens to data supplied by 320 Canadian adult drinkers recruited online. The participants took surveys assessing their drinking frequency and quantity over a 30-day period beginning soon after public health measures were implemented, and the preceding 30 days. They also reported on demographic factors, and influences known to be associated with drinking as a coping mechanism or considered likely to increase that risk. These including changes in work hours and income, having children at home, anxiety about health, depression, social connectedness, drinking alone, and alcohol-related problems. Researchers used statistical modeling to explore associations between these influences.

Overall, participants’ reported total alcohol consumption was fairly steady compared to the previous month, although some people reported increased drinking while others reported decreased drinking. Using alcohol to cope with distress was associated with increased drinking and greater alcohol problems during the early stage of COVID-19. The risk was most notable among participants with greater depression or lower social connectedness. It also affected those with a child under 18 living at home, in line with previous evidence of parenting stress linked to both drinking to cope and the pandemic. Although people who lost income reported increased alcohol use early in the pandemic, this was not explained by drinking to cope.

Solitary alcohol use, a behavior linked with alcohol problems, also increased (drinking in virtual social contexts was not considered solitary). However, increased solitary drinking was linked to situational factors (such as living alone) rather than drinking to cope. Men and people belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups were also more likely to report increased solitary drinking.

The study highlights the importance of addressing coping-motivated drinking among depressed or socially isolated people and parents of children under age 18. The researchers cautioned that the study findings are not necessarily generalizable and are limited by focusing on one point in time. They recommend further investigation involving larger and more diverse samples, and longitudinal research to clarify cause and effect.

Drinking to cope during COVID-19 pandemic: The role of external and internal factors in coping motive pathways to alcohol use, solitary drinking, and alcohol problems. J. Wardell, T. Kempe, K. Rapinda, A. Single, E. Bilevicius, J. Frohlich, C. Hendershot, M. Keough.

Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla on 4 September 2020 delivered a major foreign policy lecture on “The Broad Canvas of Indian Diplomacy during the Pandemic,” during a virtual event organised by Indian Council of World Affairs, one of India’s premier and oldest foreign policy think tanks.

The scale and spread of the event covered the length and breadth of India, with participants from 28 states and 4 union territories. With 2000 registered participants, the lecture was attended by a diverse array of distinguished think-tankers and eminent academics, including deans and vice chancellors of prestigious universities and research centers.

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