A study from the School of Global Public Health at New York University has found that depression and anxiety contributed to increased drinking during the pandemic, writes Robby Berman for Medical News Today. The effect is most pronounced among people over 40 years – warranting age-differentiated public health messaging and substance use services.
Among older people, those with depression and anxiety are more than twice as likely to drink more alcohol, according to the study published in the journal Preventive Medicine last month.
Previous research has found that people turn to alcohol as a means of helping them handle stress, such as in the period following the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.
The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Numerous studies have found that alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic, and dramatically so for people with depression.
The new study takes a fresh look at drinking during the pandemic and finds, for the first time, that age affects the likelihood of a person consuming more alcohol as a response to the pandemic, according to Medical News Today.
Lead author Ariadna Capasso, of the School of Global Public Health, says: “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.”
The study and general findings
The researchers surveyed 5,850 adults from all 50 American states through Facebook and its associated platforms during the months of March and April 2020. They asked participants to describe themselves demographically and report how their alcohol use had changed since the start of the pandemic.
The survey also included questions that allowed the researchers to identify and measure the participants’ symptoms of depression and anxiety. Each person also reported the degree to which they felt at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Of all the participants identifying themselves as drinkers, 29% reported that their alcohol consumption had increased during the pandemic, Medical News Today continues.
Of the drinkers, 51.2% said that the pandemic had not affected the amount of alcohol that they consumed, while another 19.8% reported drinking less.
Of all the people surveyed, 47% and 30% reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively. Individuals reporting symptoms of depression were 64% more likely to be consuming greater amounts of alcohol, while anxiety was associated with a 41% higher likelihood of increased drinking.
The study also found that demographic factors affected alcohol consumption during the pandemic:
Women were more likely (33% as opposed to 24%) to have increased their drinking than men. Highly educated people were more likely to have started drinking more (32%) than those without a bachelor’s degree (25%), says Medical News Today.
Fewer retirees (20%) reported drinking more than employed and currently unemployed participants, 31% of whom were consuming more alcohol. People living in rural areas were less likely to have upped their alcohol intake (25%) compared with those living in suburban and urban areas (31%).
Increased alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic: The effect of mental health and age in a cross-sectional sample of social media users in the US
Ariadna Capassoa, Abbey M Jones, Shahmir H Alia, Joshua Foremanac, Yesim Tozand and Ralph J DiClementea
Author affiliations: School of Global Public Health at New York University and the Department of Surgery at the University of Melbourne
Published online in Preventive Medicine on 7 January 2021
- 29% of respondents increased alcohol use. Those with depressive symptoms had 64% greater odds of increased alcohol use.
- Age moderated the association of mental health and alcohol use.
- Younger respondents had the highest probability of reporting increased alcohol use regardless of mental health status.
- The probability of older persons reporting increased drinking was much greater among those with poor mental health.
- Findings warrant age-differentiated public health messaging on alcohol use risks for older adults with poor mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a public health crisis of unprecedented scale. Increased alcohol use has been extensively documented during other crises, particularly among persons with anxiety and depression. Despite COVID-19's differential impact by age, the association of age, mental health and alcohol use during the pandemic has not been explored.
This study aimed to examine whether age modified the association of anxiety and depressive symptoms with alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two online surveys were administered to US adult social media users in March and April 2020.
Generalised linear models were conducted in 2020 among 5,850 respondents (52.9% female; 22.0% aged 18–39 years, 47.0% aged 40–59 years, and 31.0% aged ≥60 years) to examine if age modified the association of anxiety and depression symptomatology and alcohol use.
Overall, 29% of respondents reported increased alcohol use. Adjusted odds ratios of reporting increased alcohol use were 1.41 (95% CI = 1.20–1.66) among respondents with anxiety symptoms and 1.64 (95% CI = 1.21–2.23) among those with depressive symptoms compared to those without such symptoms.
Whereas respondents aged 18–39 years had the highest probability of reporting increased alcohol use, the probability of older persons (40–59 and ≥60 years) reporting increased drinking was much greater among those with symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to those without symptoms.
These findings warrant age-differentiated public health messaging on the risks of excessive alcohol use and scale-up of substance use services for middle-aged and older adults with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Medical News Today story – Depression, anxiety spur pandemic alcohol consumption (Open access)
Preventive Medicine article – Increased alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic: The effect of mental health and age in a cross-sectional sample of social media users in the US (Open access)
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