Changes in alcohol use as a function of psychological distress and social support following COVID-19 related University closings
- Alcohol use increased significantly following COVID-19 related campus closure.
- Higher social support was associated with less alcohol use overall.
- Elevated psychological distress was associated with steeper increases in alcohol.
- Social support did not moderate the effect of distress on increasing alcohol use.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, universities across the United States abruptly closed campuses and transitioned to remote learning. The effects of these unprecedented closures are unknown.
The current study examined reported alcohol consumption during the week prior to and after campus closure at a public university in Northeast Ohio.
Analysis of data from 1,958 students, who endorsed using alcohol in the past 30 days, demonstrates that alcohol consumption (amount and frequency) increased as time progressed. Those with more symptoms of depression and anxiety reported greater increases in alcohol consumption (assessed via retrospective timeline follow-back) compared to students with fewer symptoms.
Furthermore, students with greater perceived social support reported less alcohol consumption.
Together, these findings highlight the need for universities to offer services and programs to students that will minimize risk factors and maximize protective factors in order to reduce or prevent alcohol abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.
This study aimed to examine how alcohol use has changed over time following the closing of a large public University. Moreover, the study aimed to examine the relationship between psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression) and social support in relation to changes in alcohol consumption surrounding campus closure.
These results highlight the potential for universities to intervene during this period of closure to possibly reduce or prevent alcohol abuse. Although the current environment is unparalleled, past research has found multicomponent and virtual approaches to be effective for college student alcohol prevention. Internet-based interventions can be effective in curbing heavy alcohol use and are both cost-effective and scalable (Riper et al., 2011). Programs that can be offered remotely and target at-risk students to reduce alcohol use include eCHUG (Walters, Vader, & Harris, 2007) and AlcholEdu (Paschall, Antin, Ringwalt, & Saltz, 2011).
Additionally, research has demonstrated promising results regarding the benefits of using online interventions for the treatment of depression in young people (Rice et al., 2014) and the benefits of using social media as a modernized medium for social support (Cole, Nick, Zelkowitz, Roeder, & Spinelli, 2017). Increasing awareness of helplines, such as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free helpline for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders, can potentially be beneficial.