Alcohol consumption in U.S. rose 14% during pandemic, RAND finds

Alcohol consumption has risen significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, a new survey has found. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI
Alcohol consumption has risen significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, a new survey has found. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI

Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Alcohol consumption in the United States increased by an average of 14% this spring, when most of the country was in some degree of lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Drinking rose by 19% among adults age 30 to 59 and by 17% among women, according to the poll of 1,540 Americans published in the JAMA Network Open.


Compared to the same period in 2019, women reported a 41% increase in "days of heavy drinking," the researchers said.

"Our study shows that people drank more frequently and, for women in particular, more heavily...during the initial stages of COVID-19 compared to their own behaviors from a year earlier," study co-author Michael S. Pollard told UPI.

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"Alcohol consumption is linked to negative physical and mental health outcomes, accidents and interpersonal violence, so healthcare providers, the public and families should all be conscious of changes in alcohol use during this stressful time," said Pollard, a sociologist with the RAND Corp.


For their research, Pollard and his colleagues at RAND used data from the organization's American Life Panel on the alcohol consumption of 1,540 adults ages 30 to 80 years, as measured between April 29 and June 9 of 2019.

They followed up with the same group of respondents between May 28 and June 16 of this year to document any changes that may be linked with the pandemic and related lockdowns.

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In both surveys, participants were asked to report the number of days during which they consumed alcohol or engaged in "heavy drinking" -- defined as five drinks or more for men and four drinks or more for women "within a couple of hours" -- over the prior 30 days.

This spring, respondents reported that they consumed alcohol on an average of 6.22 days during the prior month, a 14% increase from the average of 5.48 days in 2019, the data showed.

On average, women reported drinking on an average of 5.36 days out of the prior month in 2020, a 17% rise from 4.58 days in 2019, the researchers said.

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Adults ages 30 to 59 years reported consuming alcohol consumption on an average of 5.91 days during the prior month, a 19% increase from 4.98 days the prior year, the data showed.


In addition, women said they engaged in heavy drinking on an average of 0.62 days, a 41% spike from 0.44 days in 2019, according to the researchers.

"Stress, depression and loneliness all likely increased with the pandemic and stay-at-home orders," Pollard said. "Alcohol is often used as a way to cope with mental distress, and we anticipate this is one of the main reasons for the changes we see in alcohol consumption."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that just over 5% of Americans engage in "heavy drinking" -- an average of more than 14 drinks per week for men or seven per week for women -- which has not changed much since 2014.

The CDC also said in June that more than 93,000 people per year die in the United States from alcohol-related causes, and that an average of 255 Americans die each day from excessive drinking.

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