Examining the Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption, Psychological Distress and COVID-19 Related Circumstances: An Australian Longitudinal Study in the First Year of the Pandemic
- An Australian longitudinal study conducted in the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- High psychological distress was longitudinally associated with greater alcohol consumption.
- Working from home was longitudinally associated with greater alcohol consumption.
- Home-schooling was longitudinally associated with greater alcohol consumption.
The aim of this study is to examine the relationship between alcohol consumption, psychological distress and COVID-19 related circumstances (being in lockdown, working from home, providing home-schooling and being furloughed) over the first eight months of the pandemic in Australia.
A longitudinal study with six survey waves over eight months with a convenience sample of 770 participants. Participants were aged 18 or over, lived in Australia and consumed alcohol at least monthly. Demographic data was obtained in the first wave. Data on alcohol consumption, psychological distress (Kessler 10), and COVID-19 related circumstances (being in lockdown, working from home, providing home-schooling and being furloughed) were obtained in each survey wave.
Results from the fixed-effect bivariate regression analyses show that participants reported greater alcohol consumption when they had high psychological distress compared to when they had low psychological distress.
Meanwhile, participants reported greater alcohol consumption when they worked from home compared to when they did not work from home.
Participants also reported greater alcohol consumption when they provided home-schooling compared with when they did not provide home-schooling.
The fixed-effect panel multivariable regression analyses indicated a longitudinal relationship between higher psychological distress and providing home-schooling on increased alcohol consumption.
Broader alcohol use trends during the COVID-19 pandemic typically indicate increases and decreases in alcohol use among different members of the population.
This study demonstrates that in Australia, it was those who experienced psychological distress and specific impacts of COVID-19 restrictions that were more likely to increase their alcohol use.
Added value of the study
The study findings help provide some clarity in the ongoing debates about the impact of COVID-19 on alcohol use. They suggest that focussing on overall consumption effects likely misses key subpopulations whose alcohol use has been most affected and who may be at most risk of harm during and after the pandemic.
Focussing public health interventions on reducing psychological distress and supporting people who are working from home or providing home-schooling to manage their drinking is likely to be effective at reducing the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on drinking within these at-risk groups.
This study adds to the limited longitudinal research investigating the association between alcohol consumption, psychological distress, and a number of COVID-19 related circumstances (being in lockdown, working from home, providing home-schooling and being furloughed). Participants with high psychological distress reported greater alcohol consumption during the pandemic compared to participants with low psychological distress. Working from home and providing home-schooling were also associated with an increase in alcohol consumption, with this association being independent from psychological distress.
It is recommended that public heath interventions focus on reducing psychological distress and support people who work from home or provide home-schooling which has been found to be associated with an increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic.