COVID-19 impacts on drinking and mental health in emerging adults: Longitudinal changes and moderation by economic disruption and sex


Background: There are significant concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic may have negative effects on substance use and mental health, but most studies to date are cross-sectional. In a sample of emerging adults, over a two-week period during the pandemic, the current study examined: (1) changes in drinking-related outcomes, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder and (2) differences in changes by sex and income loss. The intra-pandemic measures were compared to pre-pandemic measures. Methods: Participants were 473 emerging adults (Mage = 23.84; 41.7% male) in an existing longitudinal study on alcohol misuse who were assessed from June 17 to July 1, 2020, during acute public health restrictions in Ontario, Canada. These intra-pandemic data were matched to participant pre-pandemic reports, collected an average of 5 months earlier. Assessments included validated measures of drinking, alcohol-related consequences, and mental health indicators. Results: Longitudinal analyses revealed significant decreases in heavy drinking and adverse alcohol consequences, with no moderation by sex or income loss, but with substantial heterogeneity in changes. Significant increases in continuous measures of depression and anxiety were present, both of which were moderated by sex. Females reported significantly larger increases in depression and anxiety. Income loss >50% was significantly associated with increases in depression. Conclusions: During the initial phase of the pandemic, reductions in heavy drinking and alcohol consequences were present in this sample of emerging adults, perhaps due to restrictions on socializing. In contrast, there was an increase in internalizing symptoms, especially in females, highlighting disparities in the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

Publication Title

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research