Increases in Risky Drinking During the COVID-19 Pandemic Assessed via Longitudinal Cohort Design: Associations With Racial Tensions, Financial Distress, Psychological Distress and Virus-Related Fears03/2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruptions to daily life resulting in wide-spread unemployment and psychological distress. Recent studies have reported high rates of alcohol use during this time; however, longitudinal data remain scarce and factors associated with increases in high-risk drinking observed over time are unknown.
The current study examined changes in high-risk drinking patterns across four 7-day observation periods, prior to and following a university wide campus closure. Additionally, factors associated with changes in alcohol use patterns were examined including financial distress, psychological distress, impact of racial tensions and virus-related fears.
Students (N = 1001) in the Midwestern USA completed repeated assessments between March and June 2020. Each survey included a timeline follow-back measure of alcohol use. Pandemic-related distress spanning several factors was assessed at the final follow-up.
Risky drinking patterns increased significantly over time. Overall, psychological distress and impact of racial tensions were associated with higher rates of risky drinking, whereas COVID-19-related fears were associated with lower rates. However, only financial-related distress was associated with an increase in risky drinking patterns over time.
Increased risky drinking patterns observed in the current study may signal problems that are likely to persist even after the direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on daily life ends. Individuals experiencing financial distress may represent a particularly high-risk group. Interventions targeting the cross-section of job loss, financial stress and problematic alcohol use will be important to identify.