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Stress, isolation and free time: People are drinking more amid pandemic, study says

Alyssa Lukpat, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Health & Fitness

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into the year, more adults are drinking to cope, and alcohol sales have surged across the country, a new study says.

Parents, women, unemployed people, Black people and adults with mental health concerns increased their alcohol consumption between February and April, according to a study released from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in Research Triangle Park.

"After the terrorist attacks on September 11 and also Hurricane Katrina, there was sustained increases in alcohol assumption," said Carolina Barbosa, a health economist at RTI. "The weeks of isolation imposed by stay-at-home policies and the scale of the current pandemic are unmatched by these recent disasters."

RTI surveyed nearly 1,000 people online in the United States last month to see how their alcohol consumption changed between February and April.

States across the country implemented different shelter-in-place measures beginning in March to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered North Carolinians to stay at home beginning March 25.

The respondents on average upped their daily alcohol intake from 0.74 drinks in February to 0.94 in April, RTI said.

 

About 35% reported excessive drinking in April, compared to 29% in February, and 27% reported binge drinking. The survey did not differentiate between different types of alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends women do not consume more than three drinks per day and seven drinks per week and men no more than four drinks per day and 14 drinks per week. RTI defined excessive drinking as anyone who drank more than this total. Binge drinking, RTI said, is when a man consumes more than four drinks in two hours and a woman consumes over three in the same time frame.

Around 10% of respondents don't drink at all, the study said.

"We also saw large increases in consumption among those who were not drinking in excess of recommended guidelines in February," Barbosa said. "And this is especially concerning, because this is not people who always drank a lot suddenly drinking more, this is people who drank within the guidelines drinking a lot more."

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