Drinking to cope during COVID-19 pandemic: The role of external and internal factors in coping motive pathways to alcohol use, solitary drinking, and alcohol problems
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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in massive disruptions to society, to the economy, and to daily life. Some people may turn to alcohol to cope with stress during the pandemic, which may put them at risk for heavy drinking and alcohol-related harms. Research is needed to identify factors that are relevant for coping-motivated drinking during these extraordinary circumstances to inform interventions. This study provides an empirical examination of coping motive pathways to alcohol problems during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Participants (N = 320; 54.6% male; mean age 32 years old) were Canadian adult drinkers who completed an online survey assessing work- and home-related factors, psychological factors, and alcohol-related outcomes over the past 30 days, covering a time period beginning within one month of the initiation of the COVID-19 emergency response. Results: The results of a theory-informed path model showed that having at least one child under age 18, greater depression, and lower social connectedness each predicted unique variance in past 30-day coping motives, which in turn predicted increased past 30-day alcohol use (controlling for pre-COVID-19 alcohol use reported retrospectively). Income loss was associated with increased alcohol use, and living alone was associated with increased solitary drinking (controlling for pre-COVID-19 levels), but these associations were not mediated by coping motives. Increased alcohol use, increased solitary drinking, and greater coping motives for drinking were all independently associated with past 30-day alcohol problems, and indirect paths to alcohol problems from living with children, depression, social connectedness, income loss, and living alone were all supported. Conclusions: Findings provide insight into coping-motivated drinking early in the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the need for longitudinal research to establish longer-term outcomes of drinking to cope during the pandemic.