COVID-19: Adults with kids under 18 at home report using alcohol to cope with pandemic stress, new study finds

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      In news that will surprise no one, it appears that Canadians with at least one child under age 18 at home were more likely to report using alcohol early in the pandemic to cope with distress than those without kids.

      That’s according to a new study out of York University that was published today in the journal  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The research also found that people who experienced greater depression or a lack of social connectedness also said they were consuming alcohol as a coping mechanism.  

      Jeffrey Wardell and Matthew Keough, assistant professors in the faculty of health’s department of psychology, used an online crowdsourcing platform to survey 320 Canadians who drink alcohol over a 30-day period beginning within one month of the start of the COVID-19 emergency response. The mean age of respondents was 32, and 54.7 percent were male. 

      Participants reported moderate drinking on average during the early stages of the pandemic, consuming two to four drinks once or twice a week—a frequency that was similar to their alcohol consumption prior to the pandemic. Some, however, said their alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic.

      Those with children, people whose depression was exacerbated, and those experiencing social disconnection said their alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic.

      Drinking to cope was related to increased alcohol use after the onset of the pandemic as well as alcohol-related problems. 

      “While the pandemic has been challenging for everyone, our data suggest that parents’ well-being was especially impacted,” Keough said in a release. “Parents have been coping with many stressors and responsibilities during COVID-19, which potentially include working from home, homeschooling young children, and managing their own negative emotions. Our data suggests that drinking alcohol may have been a main coping strategy among stressed out parents.”

      The findings also show that loss of income loss was associated with increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic, whereas living alone was associated with solitary drinking behaviour. However, these links were not explained by the use of alcohol as a coping strategy.

      “Using alcohol to cope with distress is a clearly established risk factor for alcohol use disorder,” Wardell said. “This is concerning because these alcohol problems could worsen over time, suggesting it may be important to help these individuals find more positive coping strategies rather than using alcohol to cope.”