Increased #alcohol use during the #COVID-19 pandemic: The effect of mental health and age in a cross-sectional sample of social media users in the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a public health crisis of unprecedented scale. Increased alcohol use has been extensively documented during other crises, particularly among persons with anxiety and depression. Despite COVID-19’s differential impact by age, the association of age, mental health and alcohol use during the pandemic has not been explored.

This study aimed to examine whether age modified the association of anxiety and depressive symptoms with alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two online surveys were administered to U.S. adult social media users in March and April 2020. Generalized linear models were conducted in 2020 among 5850 respondents (52.9% female; 22.0% aged 18–39 years, 47.0% aged 40–59 years, and 31.0% aged ≥60 years) to examine if age modified the association of anxiety and depression symptomatology and alcohol use.

Overall, 29% of respondents reported increased alcohol use. Adjusted odds ratios of reporting increased alcohol use were 1.41 (95% CI = 1.20–1.66) among respondents with anxiety symptoms and 1.64 (95% CI = 1.21–2.23) among those with depressive symptoms compared to those without such symptoms. Whereas respondents aged 18–39 years had the highest probability of reporting increased alcohol use, the probability of older persons (40–59 and ≥60 years) reporting increased drinking was much greater among those with symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to those without symptoms.

These findings warrant age-differentiated public health messaging on the risks of excessive alcohol use and scale-up of substance use services for middle-aged and older adults with symptoms of depression and anxiety.