alcohol consumption
The Preventive Health Issue

If You Drank More During the Pandemic, Scaling Back Now Can Help Your Health

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol use increased during the pandemic—especially among women.
  • Experts say the dangers of regular and binge drinking can have a negative impact on overall health, a trend that was exacerbated during COVID.
  • While drinking became more common, others used the pandemic to reevaluate their relationship with drinking, prompting some to cut back or stop altogether.

At the start of the COVID pandemic, as the world locked down and people experienced overwhelming stress and uncertainty around the virus, alcohol use spiked. According to research published in JAMA Network Open, there was a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared to the year prior.

Another study out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 60% of people surveyed reported their drinking had increased during the pandemic. Elyse R. Grossman, JD, PhD, the lead author on the report, said she was surprised to learn that over a third of those people said their drinking had increased because it was easier to access alcohol.

“Prior to the pandemic, liquor stores in some states could deliver some alcohol to consumers’ homes—although it is unknown how many actually did,” Grossman told Verywell. “However, it was uncommon and, in many cases, illegal for restaurants and bars to deliver alcohol to consumers’ homes. The pandemic changed all that.”

Health Risks of Increased Drinking

The uptick in alcohol use has health implications. Research published in December 2021 in Hepatology found that more drinking during the pandemic can substantially increase long-term alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) and mortality among the general population. The study authors concluded that even just a one-year increase in alcohol consumption is estimated to result in 8,000 additional ALD-related deaths.

Alcohol Trends During Year 1 of the Pandemic

Alcohol consumption increased 14% from 2019 to 2020. Researchers wrote that there was a 41% increase in heavy drinking among women during the same time period.

“The risk of damage to your health increases with each drink of alcohol consumed,” Grossman said. In the short-term, increased alcohol use can result in injuries, like drunk driving accidents and even falls, as well as violence and alcohol poisoning.

Grossman says the long-term health impacts of increased drinking includes high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, cancer, weakening of the immune system, dementia, depression, anxiety, alcohol use disorders, and alcohol dependence, among other harms.

Elyse R. Grossman, JD, PhD, lead author of a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study on alcohol use during the pandemic

The risk of damage to your health increases with each drink of alcohol consumed.

— Elyse R. Grossman, JD, PhD, lead author of a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study on alcohol use during the pandemic

As people realized the pandemic was causing them to drink more, many reevaluated their relationship with alcohol. The popularity of initiatives like Dry January and the “sober curious” movement helped boost people’s belief that less is more when it comes to drinking and health.

Making an Effort to Scale Back

For Anna Vatuone, a Boston-based writer, giving up alcohol altogether during COVID was the right choice. The pandemic caused her to spend a lot more time by herself—especially as she lived alone—and deal with her personal challenges.

“I needed to really start focusing on my health and on creating good habits,” Vatuone told Verywell. “I did my best to moderate and cut down to maybe one glass of wine at dinner. And even that was too much for me; it still threw me off and my body was still affected by it the next day.”

Anna Vatuone, gave up drinking during the pandemic

There's this whole group of people who fall in the gray—people who don't struggle with alcohol as an addiction, but who still want to reevaluate their relationship with it.

— Anna Vatuone, gave up drinking during the pandemic

She began posting about her journey on her blog as well as on social media, where the response has been overwhelmingly positive—she's earned over 4 million likes on the platform. Vatuone regularly shares TikToks about the ups-and-downs of sobriety—including the changes in how she socializes and feels.

Whereas people often think folks don’t drink because of addiction issues, Vatuone’s found a community of people who opt not to drink for personal or health-related reasons. By posting TikToks and other content about her choice to give up alcohol, she says she’s helping start conversations around “elective sobriety.”

“There's this whole group of people who fall in the gray—people who don't struggle with alcohol as an addiction, but who still want to reevaluate their relationship with it,” Vatuone says. “And the more I started talking about it, the more I found that a lot of people shared similar sentiments.”

How Is the Industry Reacting?

Brands are meeting consumers where they are and leaning into the demand for non-alcoholic beverages. According to industry experts, sales for non-alcoholic or low-alcohol beverages have increased: In late 2021, Forbes reported that non-alcoholic beverage sales had increased 33% to $331 million over the past year, according to data from market research firm Nielsen.

The shift to non-alcoholic drinks is overall a good thing for people’s health. There is not a “safe limit” when it comes to drinking; a 2018 study in The Lancet found that no amount of alcohol is good for our health.

That’s why Vatuone worries that rules brought out during COVID, like restaurants being allowed to sell to-go alcohol or deliver it, or lengthening the hours that alcohol can be sold, can have serious consequences.

“Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” she said. “It is concerning that states are making permanent (and harmful) policy changes as a result of a transient condition such as COVID-19 without data justifying these policy changes.”

Still, Vatuone is hopeful talking about not drinking can have ripple effects. The choice to openly discuss her sobriety has helped other people reevaluate their relationship with alcohol, she said. It was not her intention when she started, but the overwhelming reactions have been rewarding.

“I can’t tell you how many people have said ‘I have cut back significantly because of your videos,’ or, ‘I have stopped drinking because of your videos,’” Vatuone said. “When I started talking about [my sobriety], I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just like, ‘This is what’s happening.’ I wanted to be honest about it.”

What This Means For You

Drinking more during the pandemic can have negative consequences on our health. Reducing your intake of alcohol, or stopping drinking entirely, can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pollard MS, Tucker JS, Green HD. Changes in adult alcohol use and consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic in the USJAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942

  2. Grossman ER, Benjamin-Neelon SE, Sonnenschein S. Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic: a cross-sectional survey of US adultsInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(24):9189. doi:10.3390/ijerph17249189

  3. Julien J, Ayer T, Tapper EB, Barbosa C, Dowd WN, Chhatwal J. Effect of increased alcohol consumption during COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol-associated liver disease: a modeling studyHepatology. Published online December 8, 2022. doi:10.1002/hep.32272

  4. Burton R, Sheron N. No level of alcohol consumption improves health. Lancet. 2018;392(10152):987-988. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31571-X

By Laura Hensley
Laura Hensley is an award-winning lifestyle journalist who has worked in some of the largest newsrooms in Canada.