How COVID-19 has Impacted Alcohol Abuse

Come March 2019, many across the globe found themselves in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had been steadily doing damage since December 2019.

Almost simultaneously, countries worldwide started to impose lockdown measures to stop the swift spread of the virus.

Factors such as social isolation, lack of physical human contact, and change of routine can have a nightmarish psychological impact on individuals, potentially triggering alcohol misuse among adults.

With several studies worldwide on the effects of COVID-19 on alcohol abuse since the pandemic began, changes in alcohol consumption are evident. [1]

The Dangers of COVID 19 and Alcohol

The likely reason that the COVID-19 pandemic has had such a negative impact on adults is that’s just what pandemics do. Pandemics are known for causing many psychological, medical, and sociological problems.

These problems can include an increase in alcohol consumption and an increase in related health consequences. [2]

Don’t be fooled by the confidence you get with alcohol or how much more fun your friends seem; alcohol is a dangerous and harmful substance.

So damaging is it that it currently causes three million deaths yearly, with alcohol being credited with 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury. [3]

Furthermore, alcohol also causes problems with poverty, increased violence, crime, sexually transmitted diseases, and other serious public health issues. [4]

Change in Drinking Habits

Although the evidence is still in its infancy and limited, there is data to suggest that the-COVID 19 pandemic has caused an increase in alcohol consumption.

Several studies have been completed across the globe on the potential impact of COVID 19 on alcohol abuse.

For example, research done by the OECD Policy Response to Coronavirus found that during the COVID 19 pandemic, there was a change in peoples drinking habits.

People who would previously consume alcohol in bars and restaurants now drink at home. The pandemic lockdowns have been difficult for many people whose social life is intrinsically interlinked with alcohol.

Research like this has made it evident that many were unaware of the severity of their drinking habits.

With everyone’s socials lives significantly affected by the pandemic, it’s now clear that among those who drank before the pandemic, a larger proportion of these social drinkers drank more in isolation.

What the Evidence Suggests

For example, preliminary government tax receipt data shows that in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, alcohol sales increased by 3% to 5% in 2020 compared to 2019.

As you would expect, alcohol sales in bars and restaurants dropped significantly, which was dire for these businesses.

On the other hand, off-premises sales of alcohol that people consume in their homes, such as those bought in shops and supermarkets, increased dramatically.

For example, online sales of alcohol increased by a vast 234% in the United States. [5]

Another clinical study was conducted in Bavaria to assess whether COVID-19-related stress impacted drinking behaviours, and how the pandemic impacted those changes.

A cross-sectional study of 2076 participants demonstrated that the COVID-19 lockdown significantly affected the alcohol drinking behaviour of both young and mature adults.

Interestingly, 44% of mature adults reportedly drank less, compared to only 7% of mature adults. What’s more, 42% of young adults reported no change in their drinking, compared to 76% of mature adults.

In contrast, 14% of young adults drank more, compared to 17% of mature adults.

The most interesting fact of the whole group was that most changes in alcohol intake were highest among the admittedly moderate drinkers, in both the young and mature age groups. [6]

Additionally, a cross-sectional online survey was conducted with a convenience sample of U.S. adults over 21 years in May 2020.

This study worked adjusted linear regressions based on age, household income, race, ethnicity, and gender variants, to assess the impact of COVID-19 stress and alcohol consumption.

As expected, the public health problem of alcohol use in the U.S. appears to have worsened during the onset of the pandemic, with adults reporting higher levels of alcohol consumption.

Those who reported suffering more severely from COVID-19 also reported a much higher alcohol intake (both by days and drinks) than participants not as highly affected by COVID-19. What’s more, participants reported a perceived increase in their current alcohol consumption compared to pre-COVID 19. [7]

Reasons People Drank More During the Pandemic

What is it about the pandemic that has caused this change in drinking behaviours? One of the most significant factors in fostering excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking is stress. Research has shown that when individuals go through economic or psychological stress, they often drink more alcohol.

This results in increased symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence.

For example, researchers found that individuals involved in extremely traumatic events like the 2003 Chinese SARS pandemic and the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York later used alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Thus, it’s possible that the emergence of COVID-19 could have had similar impacts on alcohol consumption and related harms.

This could be substantiated by the U.S. study (Cross-Sectional Survey of U.S. Adults discussed above), which found that out of their participants, those who experienced COVID-19-related stress admitted to drinking more alcoholic drinks on a higher number of days than those who did not.

The Bavarian study mentioned above also suggested two different reasons for extra alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The first relates to the decrease of alcohol use seen in some, linked to government restrictions, tight budgets, and limited availability of alcohol.

The second suggests that anxiety and stress based on social isolation, unemployment, and fear of contracting the infection can trigger psychological distress mechanisms that result in alcohol use. [8]

The Dangers of Harmful Alcohol Consumption

It is widely known that consuming alcohol, especially excessively, is harmful to an individual’s life and health. COVID-19 has intensified some of the dangers associated with dangerous alcohol consumption.

Therefore, even though the continuing effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic are uncertain, there are suggestions that the long-term effects will have a negative response.

Studies conducted found that during the COVID‑19 pandemic lockdowns, those who reported the highest alcohol consumption were those suffering from anxiety and depression.

What’s more, those with a higher income, parents of young children, women, and those in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Belgium, and France also reported higher consumption levels.

There was also a shocking 60% rise in emergency calls for domestic violence in E.U. countries, for which dangerous alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor.

With the risks rising, there is also a threat that the COVID-19 pandemic causes an increase in problematic drinking in the medium term.

This is probably because excessive alcohol consumption is typical after traumatic events that bring on high-stress levels.

This change in alcohol use also brings along associated consequences, whether situational, financial or health-related.

Most will already be aware of the variety of negative physical health associations, but not all are aware of the other negative associations.

In addition, excessive alcohol use can also worsen existing mental conditions like anxiety or depression, which may already have become worse during the pandemic. [9]


Looking at the data provided, it’s evident that changes in alcohol use have been brought about due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although whether that results in an increase or decrease can depend on a few factors, such as location, age, sex, BMI, economic status, and previous history of social or heavy drinking.

However, the evidence is still limited, and further investigations are warranted to investigate whether increased alcohol use persists as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

This continued study will be essential in determining whether psychological and physical wellbeing is subsequently affected.