Testing both affordability-availability and psychological-coping mechanisms underlying changes in alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic

Orla McBride, Eimhear Bunting, Oisín Harkin, Sarah Butter, Mark Shevlin, Jamie Murphy, Liam Mason, Todd Hartman, Ryan McKay, Philip Hyland, Liat Levita, Kate M. Bennett, Thomas VA Stocks, Jilly Gibson-Miller, Anton Martinez, Frédérique Vallières, Richard P. Bentall

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Two theoretical perspectives have been proffered to explain changes in alcohol use during the pandemic: the ‘affordability-availability’ mechanism (i.e., drinking decreases due to changes in physical availability and/or reduced disposable income) and the ‘psychological coping’ mechanism (i.e., drinking increases as adults attempt to cope with pandemic-related distress). We tested these alternative perspectives via longitudinal analyses of the COVID-19 Psychological Consortium (C19PRC) Study data (spanning three timepoints during March to July 2020). Respondents provided data on psychological measures (e.g., anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, paranoia, extraversion, neuroticism, death anxiety, COVID-19 anxiety, intolerance of uncertainty, resilience), changes in socio-economic circumstances (e.g., income loss, reduced working hours), drinking motives, solitary drinking, and ‘at-risk’ drinking (assessed using a modified version of the AUDIT-C). Structural equation
modelling was used to determine (i) whether ‘at-risk’ drinking during the pandemic differed from that recalled before the pandemic, (ii) dimensions of drinking motives and the psychosocial correlates of these dimensions, (iii) if increased alcohol consumption was predicted by drinking motives, solitary drinking, and socio-economic changes. The proportion of adults who recalled engaging in ‘at-risk’ drinking decreased significantly from 35.9% prepandemic to 32.0% during the pandemic. Drinking to cope was uniquely predicted by experiences of anxiety and/or depression and low resilience levels. Income loss or reduced working hours were not associated with coping, social enhancement, or conformity drinking motives, nor changes in drinking during lockdown. In the earliest stage of the pandemic,
psychological-coping mechanisms may have been a stronger driver to changes in adults’ alcohol use than ‘affordability-availability’ alone.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0265145
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2022

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