USA: Adults Turn to Alcohol to Cope With COVID-19
Stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic have led to more adults consuming alcohol and other drugs as a way to cope with stress, according to a recent study.
More than one in four adults (28%) said they have used alcohol or other drugs to make themselves feel better, shows a new University of Michigan study. Researchers tracked behaviors a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the pandemic in mid-March.
Adults are using various coping strategies, including unhealthy and counter-productive once, to deal with mental and physical health concerns related to uncertainty with the pandemic.
The concerns include feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping and relaxing, and feeling hopeless and afraid,” said Shawna Lee, the report’s lead author and University of Michigan associate professor of social work. She collaborated on the report with social work doctoral student Kaitlin Ward.
The sample included responses from 562 adults (both parents and nonparents) – many who indicated their depression and anxiety spiked several days or more in the previous two weeks.
- Over 1 in 4 respondents knew someone who had been tested for Coronavirus, and approximately 1 in 9 respondents knew someone who had contracted Coronavirus.
- Symptoms of depression were high: 2 out of 3 reported feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping, and feeling hopeless several days or nearly every day since the Coronavirus pandemic.
- Symptoms of anxiety were even more common, with 50% or more reporting symptoms of anxiety nearly every day or several days a week since the Coronavirus pandemic. Approximately 32% of respondents had symptoms that would indicate mild anxiety, about 19% for moderate anxiety and 17% for severe anxiety.
- 28% of all respondents said they have used alcohol or other drugs to make themselves feel better. 22% said they were using alcohol more and 1 in 7 (14%) said they were using marijuana more.
- Even though respondents reported relying on their romantic partners to cope with uncertain times, 22% of respondents in a romantic relationship reported having disagreements with their partner related to the Coronavirus, 19% reported more disagreements than usual, and 15% reported more verbal fights than usual.
- Although about 1 in 4 respondents were having more conflicts in the first two weeks after the pandemic, a majority (71%) said they have felt emotionally closer to their partner than usual.
As disruptions to daily life worsen, mental health professionals need to be prepared for an increase in mental health and substance use problems,” associate professor Lee explained.
Big Alcohol promotes their products as coping tools
The alcohol industry, fighting to protect their profits during the pandemic, has resorted to an onslaught of unethical advertising promoting their products as coping tools and flooding social media with alcohol promotions.
For instance, new research by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Cancer Council WA has exposed the Big Alcohol marketing onslaught in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new report details how the alcohol industry is exploiting the current public health crisis as a marketing opportunity.
The alcohol promotions during the pandemic are particularly concerning as they promote known risk factors for alcohol harm:
- Buying more alcohol,
- Consuming alcohol to cope,
- Using alcohol daily,
- Consuming alcohol at home and
- Using alcohol alone.
The findings illustrate the extent to which this unethical and harmful trend has permeated society through social media. The research monitored an individual’s Facebook and Instagram feeds for one hour on a Friday night.
Key results from the research include:
- In one hour on a Friday night, 107 sponsored alcohol advertisements were displayed on a personal Facebook and Instagram account.
- This equates to approximately one alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds.
Six marketing message categories were identified:
- Get easy access to alcohol without leaving your home (58%),
- Save money (55%),
- Buy more (35%),
- Consume alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic (24%),
- Use alcohol to cope, ‘survive’, or feel better (16%), and
- Choose ‘healthier’alcohol products (14%).
Other findings show:
- Nearly three-quarters of advertisements (71%) explicitly or implicitly referenced the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Two-thirds (66%) of the alcohol advertisements had a ‘Shop now’ or ‘Get offer’ button linking directly to an online store.
The marketing messages being used to promote alcohol during COVID-19 are particularly concerning as they promote heavy alcohol consumption, including buying more, consuming to cope, consuming daily and at home or alone in the home.
Social Media Users More Likely to Increase Alcohol Use During COVID-19 “Stay-at-Home”
Already in early April, Movendi International reported market research findings showing that social media users are more likely to increase their alcohol use during COVID-19 “Stay-at-Home” orders in the United States
The report examines how the confinement to homes is affecting alcohol consumption and how that specifically correlates to individual social media platforms.
- In their first 1-3 days of confinement, 47% of respondents say that their beer consumption has increased, followed by wine at 37%, and liquor at 30%.
- 33% of males say they are consuming more beer since Coronavirus has impacted their life compared to 19% of females.
- 44% of consumers ages 21 to 29 say they are consuming more wine compared to 25% of those surveyed of all adults 21+.
The study also finds that social media use has increased due to confinement. Increased social media is in turn affecting alcohol use.
Key statistics for social media impact on alcohol use
- 54% of TikTok users say they are consuming more beer since being confined to their home for Coronavirus, as opposed to 8% of those who don’t use any form of Social Media.
- Instagram users are 4.3 times more likely to have increased their consumption of liquor vs. those who do not use Instagram.
- 43% of Twitch users say they have participated in an online “Happy Hour” since being impacted by Coronavirus, as opposed to 1.4% of those who don’t use any form of Social Media.
- Over 16% of social media users say they have already ordered alcohol and used delivery, curbside pickup, or drive thru since the Coronavirus impacted their life – and 44% say they are considering using it.
WHO: Alcohol Use NOT a COVID-19 Coping Tool
The WHO – in contrast to the alcohol industry – has advised people not to use alcohol and other harmful substances to cope with the crisis. Instead they suggest activities which are promoting mental and physical health to support ourselves and loved ones during this time.
WHO regional offices for Europe, the Americas and the Eastern Mediterranean regions have also produced a fact sheet reminding people that consuming alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19, and encouraging governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption.
WHO says that at times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence.