Problem drinking before and during the COVID-19 crisis in US and UK adults: evidence from two population-based longitudinal studies

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Journal Article

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Michael Daly and Eric Robinson

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Background: The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on potentially harmful alcohol consumption is unclear. Aims: To test whether the prevalence of problem drinking has changed from before to during the COVID-19 crisis in the US and UK. Design/Setting: We examined nationally representative longitudinal data on how problem drinking has changed from pre-pandemic levels among adults in the US (N=7,327; Understanding America Study) and UK (N=12,594; UK Household Longitudinal Study). Methods: In the US, we examined rates of consuming alcohol ≥ 4 times in the past week at baseline (March, 2020) and across four waves of follow-up (April-May, 2020). In the UK we assessed the prevalence of consuming alcohol ≥ 4 times per week and weekly heavy episodic drinking using the AUDIT-C at baseline (2017-2019) and during the COVID-19 lockdown (April, 2020). We also tested whether there were specific groups at greater risk of increased problem drinking during the pandemic. Results: Among US adults, there was a statistically significant increase in the percentage of participants reporting drinking alcohol ≥ 4 times a week which rose significantly from 11.7% to 17.9% (53% increase, p < .001) as the COVID-19 crisis developed in the US. Among UK adults, the percentage of participants reporting drinking ≥ 4 times a week increased significantly from 14.2% to 23% (62% increase, p < .001) and heavy episodic drinking at least weekly increased significantly from 9.7% to 16.6% (71% increase, p < .001) when compared to pre-COVID-19 lockdown levels. Trends were similar across population demographics, although those aged under 50 years and higher income groups displayed the largest increases. Conclusions: The COVID-19 crisis has been associated with substantial increases in problematic drinking in both US and UK adults.



Drug/Alcohol Abuse, Well Being, Health, Social Behaviour and Covid 19


Open Access; The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

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