One in four older adults reported changing their alcohol intake during the pandemic

Friday, July 29, 2022

It may be no surprise that the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased alcohol consumption across the globe. A new study that used data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) found that 26 per cent of middle-aged and older adults reported a change in their alcohol consumption during the first year of the pandemic.

Using data from nearly 30,000 CLSA participants, the researchers found that during the first two waves of the pandemic in Canada:

  • 13 per cent of participants increased their alcohol intake;
  • 13 per cent of participants decreased their alcohol; and
  • 28 per cent of participants met criteria for either occasional or regular binge drinking

“Those who were younger, had higher education and income, reported living alone, using cannabis, or had a positive screen for anxiety or depression were at greater risk for potentially worrisome alcohol use,” said Dr. Jacqueline McMillan, a geriatrician and clinical assistant professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Calgary.

The research was published online in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

As moderate and high levels of alcohol use can pose health concerns, increases in consumption related to the pandemic could adversely affect health. Binge drinking, defined in older adults 65 and over as 4+ drinks for women and 5+ drinks for men on one occasion, has been linked to unintentional injuries and chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart and liver disease, certain cancers, memory difficulties.

This study, based on data from the CLSA COVID-19 Questionnaire Study baseline and exit surveys, aimed to examine the proportion and factors associated with changes in alcohol intake and binge drinking during the first 10 months (corresponding to the first 2 waves) of the COVID-19 pandemic among middle-aged and older adults.

Although previous studies have explored factors associated with changes in alcohol intake during the COVID-19 pandemic, the effect of cannabis use on alcohol intake has not been explored in prior Canadian pandemic studies and was examined in this study alongside sociodemographic and mental health factors.

“Specific subpopulations were at greater risk of increasing their alcohol intake or meeting criteria for binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. McMillan said.

CLSA participants who were male, younger than 65, had higher education and income, previously or currently used cannabis (especially females), or were female with anxiety and/or depression were more likely to meet the criterion for binge drinking.

“Public health interventions, such as public awareness campaigns, resources for at-risk groups, educational programs for health-care providers, aimed at reducing harm from at-risk alcohol use could be targeted to individuals with one or more of these characteristics,” Dr. McMillan said.