Alcohol use levels in the United States (U.S.) have continued to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to latest survey findings. The most affected are women with young children. The survey was conducted by RTI International for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The two part survey was launched in 2020. It measured alcohol use changes in the U.S. population amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and compared those results to the pre-pandemic situation. The survey was conducted in two waves, one in April 2020 and the second in November 2020.

The results are grim. Alcohol use has continued to increase during the pandemic.

The survey found that, in the U.S., compared with February 2020:

  • Alcohol use increased by 27% by April 2020 and by November 2020 increased by 39%.
  • Binge alcohol use increased by 26% by April 2020 and rose by 30% by November 2020.
  • The largest increases in alcohol use and the most at risk were,
    • Women with children under age five in the household (323%),
    • Black and Hispanic women (173% and 148% increases, respectively),
    • Black men (173%), and
    • Men who selected something other than White, Black or Hispanic for their race/ethnicity (209%).

Our study shows that people didn’t just increase their alcohol consumption for a month or two at the beginning of the pandemic — the trend held for nearly the entire year,” said Dr. Carolina Barbosa, a health economist at RTI, as per the New York Post.

Dr. Carolina Barbosa, Health Economist, RTI International
Increase in U.S. alcohol use during COVID-19
A survey by RTI International found that between February, 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic and November, 2020 during the pandemic, alcohol use increased by 39% in the United States.
Rise in alcohol use among American women with children under the age of five in the household.
The survey by RTI International found that women with children below five years of age increased alcohol use the most by 323%.

Increased harm to women

The specific harm for women and women with young children is especially concerning. The results align with previous research, which found women to be using alcohol as a coping method during the pandemic. One study, published in October 2020 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, found that between February and April 2020, women had higher heavy alcohol use rates than men. Another study published in the Journal Addictive Behaviors in November, 2020 reported that women were consuming more alcohol in response to COVID-19. Women are affected more strongly by the pandemic, possibly due to added childcare responsibilities, while balancing work-from-home along with other pandemic changes.

As Movendi International previously reported alcohol use among women has caught up to men’s levels with catastrophic consequences.

  • One study found, alcohol-related visits to the emergency room increased 70% for women, compared with 58% for men, between 2006 and 2014.
  • Another paper reported that the rate of alcohol-related cirrhosis rose 50% for women, versus 30% for men, from 2009 to 2015.
  • The alcohol related death rate among women is increasing faster than for men.  One study published in JAMA Network found, between 2000 to 2016, alcohol-induced deaths among women increased between 3.1% and 3.6% a year, about 3 times that of men. Another study done by researchers at the NIAAA found women’s alcohol-related death rate increased by 85% compared to a 40% increase among men.

The increased use of alcohol by women is not a coincidence. The alcohol industry specifically targets women with their marketing. Big Alcohol ignores the specific harms their products cause to women since women’s bodies react differently to alcohol. Despite the fact that women can get addicted to and sick from alcohol faster than men, the industry continues to push their products on them aggressively.

Policy makers should prepare for the increase in alcohol use during the pandemic

Despite the rise in alcohol use and the behavior of the alcohol industry during the pandemic at least 20 Federal States are considering making permanent the weakened alcohol policy rules they put in place during the pandemic. For example, in New York, alcohol businesses started a petition pushing state legislators to continue allowing restaurants to sell alcohol for takeaway. As a result, a bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Pat Fahy (D-Albany) to make takeaway alcohol legal for up to two years in New York.

RTI International warns policy makers to consider the consequences of weakening alcohol policy measures as a lesson learnt for the future.

Policymakers should be prepared to respond to the public health consequences of such a sudden, sustained increase in alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Carolina Barbosa, a health economist at RTI, as per Cision PR Newswire.

I would also encourage them to consider lessons learned from the pandemic. For example, relaxing regulations during the pandemic to allow curbside pick-up and extending privileges for home alcohol deliveries may have contributed to increased consumption, and now some of these relaxed regulations are being permanently adopted.”

Dr. Carolina Barbosa, Health Economist, RTI International


The New York Post: “Moms with young kids increased drinking by 323% after start of pandemic: study

Cision PR Newswire: “Trend of Increased Alcohol Consumption Held Steady as Pandemic Dragged On, New Survey Results Show