Who Drank More During COVID-19 Lockdown? Men or Women? Interview with:

Michael S. Pollard, Ph.D. Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School Senior Sociologist RAND Corporation Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138

Dr. Pollard

Michael S. Pollard, Ph.D.
Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Senior Sociologist
RAND Corporation
Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: There are ample anecdotal jokes and stories about increased alcohol use during COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders. Our study provides robust longitudinal evidence that people drank more frequently, and for women in particular, more heavily, and with more negative consequences, during the initial stages of COVID-19 compared to their own behaviors from a year earlier (May/June 2020 compared to May/June 2019). Women’s alcohol consumption was most significantly changed, with a 17% increase in number of days drinking, and a 41% increase in days of binge drinking (when they had four or more drinks in a couple of hours). This means that, nationally, one in five women drank heavily one more day a month than the same time in 2019, on average. Women also reported a 39% increase in alcohol-related problems, such as “I took foolish risks” or “I failed to do what was expected of me” because of drinking alcohol. What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: Alcohol consumption behaviors have changed in response to COVID-19 in ways that may have negative implications for peoples’ physical and mental health (such as anxiety and depression). Health care providers, the public, and their families should all be conscious of changes in alcohol use during this stressful time, and the risks they involve. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: A key issue is whether the observed changes in alcohol consumption behaviors are temporary or if they persist throughout the pandemic. Future research should investigate how alcohol consumption and consequences change over time as the pandemic continues, and how these changes are tired to mental well-being. Our project will continue to follow the same respondents for several years for this purpose. This study also highlights that while women’s alcohol consumption is somewhat overlooked, it represents a significant concern. Further, alcohol use presents specific concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is the potential for multiple downstream health effects that should be assessed. Alcohol consumption is well known to cause physical health problems as well as negatively affect mental well-being and increase depression and anxiety. Alcohol use also impairs judgement, and people are more likely to make risky decisions, at a time when conscious use of preventative measures is extremely important.

Alcohol also increases the risk of interpersonal violence, which could heighten the risk of domestic violence while people are sheltering together for extended periods of time. People often tend to smoke or smoke more when they drink, and smoking is associated with more complicated and dangerous progression of COVID-19. Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of a range of pulmonary conditions including lung disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which the World Health Organization has warned is one of the most severe complications of COVID-19. Finally, alcohol has a deleterious effect on the immune system, which is critical for virus resistance. Each of these issues present areas in need of continued examination. 

This study is part of an ongoing project on adult social networks and alcohol use that was funded by grant R01AA025956 (PI: Pollard) from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


Pollard MS, Tucker JS, Green HD. Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942


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Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD