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ANN ARBOR—Over the course of the pandemic, anecdotes about soaring alcohol sales have abounded.
A new study shows that the frequency of drinking went up among those who used alcohol, even though the overall prevalence of drinking went down. The study, led by University of Michigan researcher Megan Patrick, used U.S. national Monitoring the Future data to examine historical rates of drinking, and the contexts in which drinking happened, between 2015 and the early months of the pandemic—April through November 2020.
Patrick, principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future Panel Study, found that the number of young and middle adults who engaged in drinking decreased with the pandemic, but the frequency of alcohol use among drinkers increased.
Similarly, among young adults, the overall percentage reporting any binge drinking in 2020 decreased, but among drinkers, the frequency of binge drinking increased. That is, drinking among the population decreased, but among drinkers, it increased. The reasons young adults drank also changed: more cited boredom and a need to alleviate tension as their reasons to drink.
“One of the reasons we worry about people drinking to relax and because they’re bored is because those are coping reasons for drinking, and we know that they’re related to risk for later problems,” said Patrick, a research professor in the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research.
“That was why people were really concerned when alcohol sales were going up during the pandemic. Everyone was stressed, and there was concern that increased stress could lead to problematic patterns of drinking and we see some evidence of that.”