Alcohol usage and dependency likely increased every month for Americans under COVID-19 lockdowns, a new study from the University of Arizona College of Medicine shows.
Researchers let by William “Scott” Killgore, Ph.D., College of Medicine-Tuscon professor of psychiatry and director of the Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab, surveyed 5,931 U.S. adults from all 50 states — roughly 1,000 of which completed a 10-item questionnaire regarding alcohol use and dependency.
Hazardous alcohol use among those under lockdown rose from 21% in April to nearly 41% in September compared to those not under lockdown, probable alcohol dependence rose from nearly 8% to 29%, and severe alcohol dependence rose from nearly 4% to 17% over the same time period.
“Being under lockdown during a worldwide pandemic has been hard on everyone, and many people are relying on greater quantities of alcohol to ease their distress,” Killgore said in a statement. “We found that younger people were the most susceptible to increased alcohol use during the pandemic, which could set them on the dangerous path toward long-term alcohol dependence.”
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A total of 21.8% of survey respondents had lost their primary job as a direct result of COVID-19. More than 26% had household incomes of $25,000 to $50,000, compared to 22.6% of those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 and 16.4% of those making between $75,000 and $100,000.
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Greater alcohol dependency risk was associated with “younger age, male sex, and primary job loss due to COVID-19, with by far the greatest influence produced by losing a job during the pandemic,” the paper concluded. The second-highest risk was associated with those who were under lockdowns or stay-at-home orders.
Alcohol dependency can put both individuals and families at risk, especially during lockdowns, because alcohol use can put children and spouses at greater risk of abuse, according to researchers.
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“Being cooped up with family for weeks and months without a break can be difficult, but when excess alcohol gets mixed in, it can become a recipe for increased aggressive behavior and domestic violence,” he said. “I worry about the effect on families and children.”
Individuals with an alcohol addiction risk developing cancer, liver disease, injury, mental health problems and early death, according to a University of Arizona press release.
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“Many of us are working from home, but this is not the same thing as being productive from home,” Killgore said. “The use of alcohol while ‘on the job’ at home is likely to reduce productivity at a time when the country needs us to be doing everything we can to sustain the economy.”