A new study has shown that people with anxiety and depression are more likely to report an increase in drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic than those without mental health issues.
The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, noted that millions of people saw their lives disrupted; some suffered the direct health effects of COVID-19; many more had their lives upended by the slowing economy and unemployment.
The research, led by doctoral student at the NYU School of Global Public Health, Ariadna Capasso, stated, “Quarantine and social distancing, necessary measures to mitigate the pandemic, may further worsen stress-related mental health.”
The study showed younger respondents had the highest probability of reporting increased alcohol use regardless of mental health status while the probability of older persons reporting increased drinking was much greater among those with poor mental health.
Of the 5,850 survey respondents who said that they drink, 29 percent reported increasing their alcohol use during the pandemic, while 19.8 percent reported drinking less and 51.2 percent reported no change. People with depression were 64 percent more likely to increase their alcohol intake, while those with anxiety were 41 percent more likely to do so.
According to the researchers, the high proportion of respondents reporting increased alcohol use due to COVID-19 is consistent with calls about the pandemic triggering an epidemic of problem alcohol use.
“People who drink to cope, with co-morbid anxiety and depression, will be more likely to report increased substance use following traumatic stress, as such caused by COVID-19. Lessons from previous post-disaster research indicate that early intervention for substance use is warranted to mitigate the pandemic’s worse mental health impacts.
“Public health systems should be prepared to actively reach out to those with existing mental health conditions, including substance use disorders, who may have their conditions aggravated by COVID-19, particularly in the context of new barriers to accessing care.”
The researchers noted that the observed age effect in the study suggests a need for tailoring public health messaging on substance use by age groups; and intensifying substance use prevention and treatment efforts for those who are more likely to engage in problem alcohol use in response to stress.
“Outreach efforts should focus on those who are most vulnerable to both COVID-19 and problem alcohol use, including older adults and those with a history of mental health disorders.
“More effective programs are individually tailored, considering risks and personal context. Innovative strategies are needed to deliver mental health services for those in need while maintaining social distance; it is necessary to make substance use treatment services accessible, perhaps via Telehealth or other novel counseling approaches while maintaining affordability and quality,” they said.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, a medical doctor and health informatician, Dr. Obi Igbokwe, said it was possible that people with anxiety and depression report an increase in drinking during the pandemic.
“This is because people look for ways of coping and consumption of alcohol is one of the coping mechanisms they turn to in order to be able to handle their increased anxious state,” he said.
Dr. Igbokwe said there was the need for increased awareness and intervention on mental health in the country.
“We need to do more in terms of mental health in Nigeria because a lot of people suffer from mental health issues.
“It is not when someone is running stark naked on the street that we should be aware of mental health because there are people that are functional in the society but still suffer from increased anxiety and increased stress that also affect their overall well-being.
“So, we need more education on mental health and more intervention, especially in our society,” he said.
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