Testing both affordability-availability and psychological-coping mechanisms underlying changes in alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic

Orla McBride, Eimhear Bunting, Oisín Harkin, Sarah Butter, M Shevlin, Jamie Murphy, Liam Mason, Todd Hartman, Ryan McKay, Philip Hyland, Liat Levita, Kate Bennett, Thomas VA Stocks, Jilly Gibson‐Miller, Anton P. Martinez, Frederique Vallieres, Richard Bentall

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Two theoretical perspectives have been proffered to explain changes in alcohol use during the pandemic: the ‘affordability-availability’ mechanism (i.e., drinking decreases due to changes in physical availability and/or reduced disposable income) and the ‘psychological-coping’ mechanism (i.e., drinking increases as adults attempt to cope with pandemic-related distress). We tested these alternative perspectives via longitudinal analyses of the COVID-19 Psychological Consortium (C19PRC) Study data (spanning three timepoints during March to July 2020). Respondents provided data on psychological measures (e.g., anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, paranoia, extraversion, neuroticism, death anxiety, COVID-19 anxiety, intolerance of uncertainty, resilience), changes in socio-economic circumstances (e.g., income loss, reduced working hours), drinking motives, solitary drinking, and ‘at-risk’ drinking (assessed using a modified version of the AUDIT-C). Structural equation modelling was used to determine (i) whether ‘at-risk’ drinking during the pandemic differed from that recalled before the pandemic, (ii) dimensions of drinking motives and the psychosocial correlates of these dimensions, (iii) if increased alcohol consumption was predicted by drinking motives, solitary drinking, and socio-economic changes. The proportion of adults who recalled engaging in ‘at-risk’ drinking decreased significantly from 35.9% pre-pandemic to 32.0% during the pandemic. Drinking to cope was uniquely predicted by experiences of anxiety and/or depression and low resilience levels. Income loss or reduced working hours were not associated with coping, social enhancement, or conformity drinking motives, nor changes in drinking during lockdown. In the earliest stage of the pandemic, psychological-coping mechanisms may have been a stronger driver to changes in adults’ alcohol use than ‘affordability-availability’ alone.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0265145
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Early online date24 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 24 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 McBride et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Humans
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Motivation
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Adult
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Pandemics
  • COVID-19


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