Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) found that 1 in 4 adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The study surveyed more than 900 twin pairs from the Washington State Twin Registry from March 26 to April 5, 2020, after stay-at-home orders were issued in Washington on March 23. An estimated 14% of survey respondents said they drank more alcohol than the week prior and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink alcohol and those whose use stayed the same.

“We expected that down the road people might turn to alcohol after the stay-at-home orders were issued, but apparently it happened right off the bat,” said lead study author Ally Avery, scientific operations manager at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, in a press release. “It shows the need to make sure there is more mental health support since it had an impact on people right away.”

Further, the study showed that the 11% who decreased their drinking also had higher levels of stress and anxiety than the groups with no change, suggesting that any change in alcohol use may be associated with mental health issues exacerbated by COVID-19, according to the study authors.

Although the study did not examine the reasons behind the link between a decrease in drinking and increase in stress and anxiety, Avery added that one possibility is that these were social drinkers who were missing out on after-work happy hours and other occasions in which they drank with friends.

The study was conducted with pairs of twins so the researchers could look at whether changes in alcohol use and mental health were mediated by genetic or shared environmental factors since twins raised in the same family share many formative experiences, according to the study authors. In addition, twins have common genetics with fraternal twins sharing approximately half of their genes, whereas identical twins share all of their genes.

The researchers found that the association between changes in alcohol use and stress and anxiety were relatively small and confounded by between-family factors and demographic characteristics. This group will continue to be surveyed at longer intervals to see whether the increased drinking persists and whether it becomes a bigger problem, according to the study authors.

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown. Washington State University. Published October 13, 2020. Accessed October 14, 2020.