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October 01, 2020

Alcohol consumption surging amid pandemic – particularly among women

Binge drinking jumped considerably from last year, study finds

Addiction Alcohol
Alcohol consumption COVID-19 pandemic Terry Vlisidis/

Americans have increased their alcohol consumption, including heavy drinking episodes, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study shows.

Americans have dramatically increased their alcohol consumption during the coronavirus pandemic, raising concerns that people are turning to the bottle to cope with the hardships.

Adults over age 30 have increased their drinking frequencies and heavy drinking episodes compared to 2019, a new study shows. Women, in particular, are drinking more than they did before the first stay-at-home orders took effect six months ago.

The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation with support from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, examined the alcohol consumption of 1,540 adults between Spring 2019 and Spring 2020. 

Their overall frequency of alcohol consumption increased by 14%. Among women, drinking frequency jumped by 17%. Women also increased their heavy drinking episodes – defined as having at least four drinks over two hours – by 41%. 

"We've had anecdotal information about people buying and consuming more alcohol," said RAND sociologist Michael Pollard, the study's lead author. "But this is some of the first survey-based information that shows how much alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic."

Researchers said the study aimed to highlight another impact of the coronavirus pandemic, noting increased drinking frequency can have dangerous effects on its participants. 

People may be using alcohol to cope with depression and anxiety – both of which have increased during the pandemic. But health experts say alcohol can make those struggles worse. 

"There is a history with events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes and other catastrophes, that people then drink more, post-trauma," NIAAA Director Dr. George Koob told ABC. "Alcohol is a very effective pain killer. But when it wears off, that pain comes back with a vengeance."

The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed out many women in unique ways. 

Women often "bear the brunt of parenting, caring for children and the family," Natalie Crawford, an assistant professor of behavioral, social and health education at Emory University, told NBC News. Alcohol often is the "easiest coping strategy."

Drinking frequencies should be monitored as the pandemic continues, researchers added, noting the psychological and physical well-being of adults could be diminished if such patterns continue. 

The study's findings were published Tuesday as a research letter in the journal JAMA Open Network.

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