Changes in Alcohol Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Europe: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies
Numerous studies have examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol use changes in Europe, with concerns raised regarding increased use and related harms.
The researchers synthesized observational studies published between 1 January 2020 and 31 September 2021 on self-reported changes in alcohol use associated with COVID-19. Electronic databases were searched for studies evaluating individual data from European general and clinical populations. The researchers identified 646 reports, of which 56 general population studies were suitable for random-effects meta-analyses of proportional differences in alcohol use changes. Variations by time, sub-region, and study quality were assessed in subsequent meta-regressions. Additional 16 reports identified were summarized narratively.
Compiling reports measuring changes in overall alcohol use, slightly more individuals indicated a decrease than an increase in their alcohol use during the pandemic [3.8%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.00–7.6%]. Decreases were also reported more often than increases in alcohol use frequency (8.0%, 95% CI 2.7–13.2%), quantity consumed (12.2%, 95% CI 8.3–16.2%), and heavy episodic alcohol use (17.7%, 95% CI 13.6–21.8%). Among people with pre-existing high alcohol use levels/alcohol use disorder, high-level alcohol use patterns appear to have solidified or intensified.
Pandemic-related changes in alcohol use may be associated with pre-pandemic alcohol use levels. Increases among high-risk alcohol users are concerning, suggesting a need for ongoing monitoring and support from relevant healthcare services.
The findings suggest that more people reduced their alcohol use in Europe than increased it since the onset of the pandemic. However high-quality studies examining specific change mechanisms at the population level are lacking.