Parents with young kids are more likely to turn to alcohol to cope with pandemic stress, according to a new study.
York University psychology professors Jeffrey Wardell and Matthew Keough co-led the study, which found that parents with at least one child under the age of 18 were more likely to consume alcohol as a coping strategy for distress following the pandemic’s onset.
“Parents have been coping with many stressors and responsibilities during COVID-19, which potentially include working from home, homeschooling young children, and managing their own negative emotions,” said Keough, adding the data, which was published Tuesday in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, suggests drinking may be a “main coping mechanism” for stressed-out parents.
Drinking to cope is related to alcohol-related problems, the study also found.
“Using alcohol to cope with distress is a clearly established risk factor for alcohol use disorder,” Wardell said.
The findings are worrisome because alcohol-related problems can worsen over time, so it’s important to help people consider “more positive coping strategies rather than alcohol,” Wardell said.
People grappling with depression and social disconnection were also more likely to report an increase in drinking following the pandemic’s onset, the study found. Income loss was associated with higher alcohol consumption, and living alone was correlated with an uptick in solo drinking, but neither finding was explicitly tied to drinking as a coping mechanism, York’s release said.
The study surveyed 320 Canadians to determine whether the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired people to reach for the bottle, and if so, who was most likely to do it. The study included work- and home-related factors, psychological factors as well as alcohol-related outcomes over the span of 30 days, beginning within one month of the initial COVID-19 emergency response across the country.
The average age of respondents was 32 and most people reported moderate drinking, or two to four drinks consumed once or twice per week within the first month of the pandemic—a rate similar to pre-pandemic levels. (People tend to severely underestimate—or lie about—how much they drink when tasked with self-reporting, The Cut reported in 2014).
The study concludes that subsequent research could be useful to measure the long-term impacts of drinking to cope with the ongoing global health crisis.
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