Research Snapshot: Risky drinking during the pandemic

Risky drinking during pandemic: Higher risk seen in women, those with financial and COVID-19 worries, older adults and high-income groups

What you need to know

Researchers conducted a study to find out which groups are most likely to have both mental distress and risky drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic. They used an online survey of 1,005 Canadian adults. They found that divorced, separated, widowed and high-income participants were most likely to binge drink and have either anxiety or depression. Participants who had worries about either their finances or about getting COVID-19 were more likely to drink and have mental distress. Women were likely to drink more during the pandemic than men. On the other hand, participants 60 years of age or older were less likely to have both mental distress and either binge drinking or increased drinking than younger participants.

What is this research about?

In early spring 2020, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) became a worldwide pandemic. The social and work-related restrictions that governments put in place to reduce transmission of the virus were unlike any in recent history. Researchers have shown that worldwide mental health has been seriously impacted by the pandemic and government measures.

Many researchers have documented the factors associated with anxiety, depression and problematic substance use. Less attention has been paid to the factors associated with having mental health and substance use problems at the same time, known as concurrency, dual diagnosis or dual disorders.

People with concurrency have poorer physical and mental health than people with a single problem. They also use more medical and psychological health services, which places a high economic burden on the health care system.

Ontario researchers conducted a study to identify those groups that are most likely to have both mental distress and risky drinking during the pandemic.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers evaluated whether various sociodemographic factors as well as worries about COVID-19 were linked to different patterns of alcohol use and psychological distress. The study sample was made up of 1,005 Canadian adults (equally divided between females and males), who had participated in an online survey in May 2020.

The survey asked participants about their sociodemographic characteristics, financial worries, the impact of COVID-19 on their work and worrying about getting ill, as well as their mental distress and rates and frequency of drinking.

What did the researchers find?

The study had the following results:

On the other hand, being 60 years of age or older was associated with lower odds of having mental distress and either binge drinking or increased drinking.

Limitations of the research

Some limitations the researchers highlighted:

How can you use this research?

This research would be useful to public health professionals wishing to design targeted health promotion campaigns. It may also be useful to program planners looking to implement targeted programs for the prevention and treatment of concurrent mental health and substance use problems.

About the researchers

Fatima Mougharbel,1,2 Hugues Sampasa-Kanyinga,2,3 Brandon Heidinger,2 Kim Corace,4,5,6 Hayley A. Hamilton,7,8,9 Gary S. Goldfield2,10

  1. Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON
  2. Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, ON
  3. School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON
  4. The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research, Ottawa, ON
  5. Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON
  6. The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, Ottawa, ON
  7. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Toronto, ON
  8. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, Toronto, ON
  9. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
  10. Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON

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