Changes in alcohol consumption during the covid-19 pandemic—small change in total consumption, but increase in proportion of heavy drinkers
Little is known about possible changes in alcohol consumption distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic. We estimated how individual changes in alcohol consumption during the pandemic translated into changes in: (i) mean consumption; (ii) dispersion of consumption distribution; and (iii) prevalence of heavy drinkers. We employed data from two independent web-surveys of Norwegian adults collected between April and July 2020 and limited to those reporting past year alcohol consumption (N1 = 15,267, N2 = 1195). Self-reports of changes in drinking behavior were quantified, assuming change being relative to baseline consumption level. During the pandemic, we found a small increase (Survey 1) or no change (Survey 2) in estimated mean alcohol consumption (which parallels to total consumption). However, in both surveys, the dispersion of the distribution increased significantly (p < 0.001). For most respondents, an average modest decline in consumption was found. However, the small fraction with the highest baseline consumption increased their consumption substantially, and in effect, the proportion of heavy drinkers increased markedly (p < 0.001). In conclusion, quantifications of reported changes in alcohol consumption during the pandemic suggest that the upper 5 to 10% of the drinkers increased their consumption and hence the prevalence of heavy drinkers increased, despite little or no change in total alcohol consumption.