People with anxiety and depression are more likely to step up their drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic than those without these mental health issues, an online survey revealed.
Alcohol use grew the most among young people, but older adults with anxiety and depression were about twice as likely to report increased drinking as older adults without those struggles, New York University researchers said.
"We expected that younger people and those with mental health issues would report drinking as a coping mechanism, but this is the first time we're learning that mental health is associated with differences in alcohol use by age," study author Yesim Tozan said in a university news release. She is an assistant professor of global health at NYU's School of Global Public Health.
Lead author Ariadna Capasso, a doctoral student, said the increase in drinking, especially among people with mental health issues, is consistent with concerns that the pandemic may be triggering an epidemic of alcohol use.
Drinking to cope with stress and traumatic events is not unusual. After the 2001 World Trade Center attack, 25% of New Yorkers increased their alcohol use.
Likewise, COVID-19 has caused lots of stress, including isolation, disruption of routines, economic hardship, illness, fear of contagion.
For the study, the researchers conducted an online survey of people across the United States in March and April.
Of the more than 5,800 respondents who said they drink, 29% said they were drinking more during the pandemic. Nearly 20% said they were drinking less and 51% said their drinking habits hadn't changed.
The survey found that people with depression were 64% more likely to drink more and people with anxiety were 41% more likely to do so.
The results varied by age: Respondents under age 40 were the most likely to report drinking more (40%), compared with 40- to 59-year-olds (30%) and those over 60 (20%).
The researchers said they support increasing mental health services during the pandemic through telehealth. They also suggested actively reaching out to people with mental health problems.
"Lessons we've learned from previous disasters show us that intervening early for unhealthy substance use is critical and could help lessen the pandemic's impact on mental health," said senior author Ralph DiClemente, chairman of NYU's Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
The findings were recently published online in the journal Preventive Medicine.
For more about coping with stress and the pandemic, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: New York University, news release, Jan. 18, 2021