A new survey conducted by The Harris Poll found nearly one in five U.S. adults were using alcohol heavily 18 months into the pandemic. These adults were suffering negative mental, physical and psychosocial impacts due to their alcohol use.
The survey was commissioned by Alkermes, an Ireland-based biopharmaceutical company. It was conducted online from March 30 to April 7, 2021, among 6,006 U.S. adults ages 21 and older. Of those, 1,003 adults or 17% reported “heavy alcohol use.”
The survey defined heavy alcohol use as having had two heavy alcohol using days in a single week at least twice in the previous 30 days.
According to age group, out of the people who reported using alcohol heavily Gen Xers fared the worst with 46% claiming to have used five units of alcohol per day in the past week. Followed by baby boomers, of whom 42% reported using five units of alcohol per day in the past week. Meanwhile, 33% of each Millennials and Gen Xers reported using this amount of alcohol.
In terms of gender, out of the people who were using alcohol heavily, 43% of men reported consuming five units of alcohol a day in the past week, whereas 30% of women reported this level of heavy alcohol use.
While we are still learning how the COVID pandemic is impacting alcohol use, it seems clear that some people are [using alcohol] more while others are [using less],” said Dr. George Koob, Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as per USA TODAY.
In many studies, increases in consumption during the pandemic were linked to increases in stress.”Dr. George Koob, Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Heavy alcohol consumption during COVID-19 pandemic
Number of alcoholic drinks heavy alcohol users consumed per day in past week, by generation:
Men and women are both heavy alcohol users
Number of alcoholic drinks heavy drinkers consumed per day in the past week, by gender:
Dr. Koob says the stress of world events and anxiety about the future can increase alcohol use and exacerbate symptoms of alcohol use disorder. This was also seen after previous disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
The survey found that most of the people who used alcohol heavily experienced negative mental, physical and social effects due to their alcohol intake.
- 3 in 10 said they continued to use alcohol despite it making them feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem.
- About 1 in 4 reported they continued to use alcohol even after experiencing a memory blackout.
- More than 1 in 5 experienced withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol were wearing off.
- 23% gave up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to them in order to use alcohol.
In terms of getting help for their alcohol problem:
- More than half of the respondents who were using alcohol heavily were aware of treatment options for alcohol dependence.
- However, 87% were not undergoing treatment at the time of the survey.
- Over half of them did say they were either “very” or “somewhat” motivated to seek treatment.
- Over half of these respondents had someone who expressed concern over their alcohol use.
- Nearly 4 in 5 said this was a family member.
Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, chief medical officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found the findings of the survey unsurprising since almost 90% of individuals with substance use disorder are not in treatment, and alcohol and other drug use typically worsen with isolation, Gandotra said.
The World Health Organization has recommended reducing the use of alcohol to protect against the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Koob echos this recommendation.
Alcohol both activates the immune system, causing inflammation, and interferes with the body’s immune response to viral and bacterial infections,” said Dr. George Koob, Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as per USA TODAY.
Ultimately, impaired immune system function and increased susceptibility to respiratory illness could contribute to more severe COVID-19 and a greater risk of mortality.”Dr. George Koob, Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism