Pandemic isolation fueling higher levels of heavy drinking, study finds

A new Harris poll has found that almost one in five Americans admits to heavy drinking at unhealthy levels during the current pandemic.

About 17% of those who responded to the poll, or 1,003 out of 6,006 adults ages 21 and older, said they engaged in heavy drinking, defined as two days a week where a woman drank more than four drinks or a man drank more than five drinks, at least two weeks out of a month.

People who said they were heavy drinkers in the study also reported declines in mental, psychosocial and physical health.

Among study participants, 23% didn’t go to places or events they enjoyed because of drinking heavily, and around 20% had withdrawal symptoms when they stopped drinking.

Not surprising

A significant number, about three in 10 said they continued to drink even though it made them anxious.

The study’s numbers are consistent with other studies that showed Americans were buying more alcohol during the pandemic.

One study found that women in particular were drinking heavier during the pandemic, and another study showed that heavy drinking was associated with job loss.

Chief medical officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, said she was not surprised by the findings.

Abuse worse with isolation

The vast majority of those in the study, 87%, were not receiving any treatment for their heavy drinking even though more than half knew treatment options were available. Alcohol and drug use typically worsen with isolation, Gandotra said.

While it is a recent study from well within the pandemic time frame, it was conducted in months ago in March and April.

The delta COVID variant was not yet widespread at that time, and vaccines were just becoming widely available. Now, some areas are experiencing higher numbers of infections than at any time during the pandemic, and the delta variants higher transmissability has caused some hospitals to fill up to capacity.

Still, many events have resumed, including music concerts, sporting events, and indoor dining in restaurants. Isolation may feel even more lonely now because it is a choice, rather than previously when most people were in the position of staying home because there wasn’t much to do.

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