Americans Are Drinking More As Pandemic Worsens Mental Health, Studies Find

The study reported that people ages 30 to 59 are drinking more often and heavily, as adults report more symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression in other studies.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open found that alcohol use has increased | Getty Images
A new study published in JAMA Network Open found that alcohol use has increased | Getty Images

Adults are consuming a lot more alcohol during the pandemic, according to a new study, and health experts are concerned about the combination of drinking and mental distress exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

In a recent study published in JAMA Network Open on Tuesday, researchers found that overall alcohol consumption in adults between the ages of 30 to 59 increased by 19% in 2020 compared to last year.

The recent study closely examined 1,540 adults between the ages 30 to 80. Participants completed a survey on alcohol use in 2019, and then again between May 28 and June 16, 2020, months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, frequency of alcohol consumption by people 30 to 59 increased by 19% (and 14% for all ages in the survey), researchers found. The study showed that women increased their alcohol consumption more than the overall average at 17%.

Researchers reported that “on average, alcohol was consumed 1 day more per month by 3 of 4 adults,” and more so by women. The study concluded that women had more “heavy drinking days” in 2020 compared to last year and that research showed a 39% increase in women who have “alcohol-related problems.”

Researchers took into account the pandemic contributing to heightened alcohol use, but cautioned that drinking heavily can “lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.”

Mental Distress Is Higher In 2020 Than Usual

Separately, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health started working on analyzing the need for mental health services in the U.S. since stay-at-home restrictions first swept the country in March.

Their research found that overall, mental distress in adults over 18 is rising. Young adults aged 18 to 24 and those living in areas that once had high numbers of COVID-19 cases (New York, California, Washington, and Massachusetts) were most affected, research shows.

Researchers also found that the people who engaged more with news and social media had higher levels of mental distress. Separately, people who “consumed cannabis and alcohol more frequently in the past week had significantly higher mental distress,” though researchers cannot conclude whether the mental health symptoms led to the use or vice versa.

“We need to ensure that individuals with need for services receive those, in the current environment,” said Dr. Elizabeth Stuart, associate dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “To help identify where that need will be, we need good measurement of distress in communities.”

Experts have sounded the alarm from the beginning about the mental health toll of a crisis, and data showed that domestic abuse situations have increased due to staying at home more and increased use of substances.