Everyone suspected there'd be a burst of pandemic drinking once virus-fighting protocols went into effect. After all, you can't lock down an entire nation and not expect some serious blowback. Add the fact that the protocols basically created a perfect storm for depression and those suspicions looked set to be confirmed.
Well, now it seems people were right to be suspicious. COVID-19 did spark a rise in America's alcohol consumption. In fact, more people were sitting at home drinking alone than any other time since perhaps the Great Depression. One year later a majority of them are still drinking too. If, that is, they're not drugging -- or both. And that initial burst has caused rehabs and sober homes to start bursting their own selves -- right at the very seams.
NYU School of Global Public Health
So goes a new study by researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health anyway. The Preventive Medicine-published study found that while drinking grew the most among younger people, older adults with anxiety and depression also saw a sharper increase in their risk for harmful alcohol use.
"This increase in drinking, particularly among people with anxiety and depression, is consistent with concerns that the pandemic may be triggering an epidemic of problematic alcohol use," said lead author Ariadna Capasso.
Stressors of course are alcoholism's primary triggers, and the pandemic comes with more than its unfair share. Among the most prevalent cited include isolation, the disruption of routines, economic hardship, illness, and fear of contagion.
There's also the stress of such events themselves, which disproportionately affects those with existing addiction and mental health issues. For instance, a NIH survey of 988 New Yorkers found a 24.6% increase in alcohol use after the 9/11 terror attacks. They also found that increase was most associated with different comorbid psychiatric conditions.
The NYU survey consisted of nearly six times as many respondents (5,850) reached via Facebook during March and April 2020. The results found a 29% increase in alcohol consumption. If nearly a third upped their pandemic drinking during the first two months of the lockdown, just imagine what those numbers look like after a full year.
Actually, a National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) study conducted by RAND heavyweights Michael S. Pollard, Joan S. Tucker and Harold D. Green might provide some idea of the numbers.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), could well have been triggered by the alarming early pandemic findings the authors' intro cited. Then again, perhaps the 54% increase in March 2019-March 2020 alcohol sales found by Nielsen was only partially alarming. The 262% increase in online alcohol sales over the same period however surely raised an alarm bell or three. So too must have the World Health Organization's semi-dire warning three weeks later.
Whatever the case, the study authors culled data from 6000 participants using the RAND Corporation's "nationally representative, probability-sampled" American Life Panel. Furthermore, it did so using procedures approved by the Corporation's Human Subjects Protection Committee. If that's as acute as it sounds, we wouldn't be surprised. In fact, we'd be surprised if it weren't at least twice as acute.
Anyway, the study has far too many numbers and figures to parse here. Among the findings though was that while drinking itself only rose a rather modest 19% through June of last year, binge drinking increased an incredible 41%. Make of both what you will.
Recovery Boot Camp wholeheartedly applauds the NYU School of Public Health, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the RAND Corporation and every other astute body that's investigating the problem of pandemic drinking. We also applaud the likes of Preventive Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association for publishing such key findings. Without top notch studies America will never truly know the extent of what we're facing, let alone be able to get a handle on it. Thank Zeus we've the work of these keen-minded folks to help.
How 'bout you? Have you fallen afoul of the pandemically-created epidemic? Might you be suffering from its opioid sister? Twin epidemics in the midst of a pandemic is no joke. It's also not something to be ashamed about. So if you've been impacted please by all means pick up the phone and call someone. Whether you call us or SAMHSA or our friends at Healing Properties doesn't matter. Just so long as you call. You'll never regret it.
(Image courtesy Snappy Goat.)