Americans really are drinking more during the pandemic

A woman is using laptop and drinking wine , in the kitchen.
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Americans really are drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic. New research suggests that alcohol consumption in the United States rose 14% during pandemic shutdowns. 

The most dramatic increase was in heavy drinking episodes in women, defined as four or more drinks within two hours. Women reported a 41% increase in episodes of heavy drinking in the spring of 2020 compared with their drinking level in the spring of  2019.

"We've had anecdotal information about people buying and consuming more alcohol, but this is some of the first survey-based information that shows how much alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic," Michael Pollard, lead author of the study and a sociologist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, said in a statement. Pollard and his colleagues reported their findings Sept. 29 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

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The data came from a nationally representative survey of 1,540 Americans in the long-running RAND American Life Survey who were queried between May and June about their drinking habits. The responses were then compared to survey data collected from the same people at the same time last year. 

The comparison showed that the frequency of alcohol consumption increased from an average of 5.48 drinking days per month in 2019 to an average of 6.22 drinking days per month in 2020. The increase was greatest for women, whose number of days of alcohol consumption went up 17%, from 4.58 days, on average, to 5.36 days. Overall, about 3 out of 4 Americans increased their drinking days by one day each month. 

In 2019, women reported drinking heavily less than once every other month, or 0.44 days out of every 30. In 2020, that average rose 41% to 0.62 days of heavy drinking out of every 30. That may seem small, but is the equivalent of one out of every five women adding a day of heavy drinking each month. Women also reported a 39% increase in problems related to drinking, such as taking foolish risks while drunk or damaging relationships due to drinking. The increase in problems indicates that as many as 1 in 10 women may be experiencing real-life consequences as a result of the increase in consumption of alcohol, the researchers wrote. 

"In addition to a range of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol use may lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, which may themselves be increasing during COVID-19," the authors noted.

Originally published on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.