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Binge Drinking Increases the Risk of COVID-19 Infection

Young women who binge drink, and especially those who use multiple substances, had a higher risk of COVID-19 infection and mental health complications.

This is part 2 of Dr. Chung’s interview. Click here to watch part 1.

Tammy Chung, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Population Behavioral Health at the Rutgers Institute for Health wanted to determine how the COVID-19 pandemic affected young women’s substance use. In this interview, Chung discusses her methodology and findings.

Chung was unsurprised to find a large number of subgroups within the study population. Some of the young women (about 1 in 5) reported low alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco use before and during the pandemic. Other subgroups reported using just 1 substance, though this was a minority of participants. “The young women who reported 2 or more substances tended to be the majority in this sample,” said Chung.

Significantly, the groups that reported more binge drinking also reported more COVID-19 infections.

Chung had a few theories for why this could be. “It might be that binge drinking increases risk for intoxication,” she explained, “Intoxication, in turn, might make someone less likely to engage in preventive behaviors, like maintaining social distancing or handwashing.”

Binge drinking was correlated with COVID-19 incidence, but the study also examined COVID-19 risk across other types of substance use. Using 2 or more substances, particularly alcohol and cannabis, was the most common, and Chung noted this subgroup could be a target for intervention.

The polysubstance use group was also at higher risk of mental health complications, including depression. This subgroup also reported more income loss and other negative pandemic-related effects.

A majority of the young women that had very low substance use before and during the COVID-19 pandemic were Black. This subgroup showed a resilience to pandemic-related impacts.

Based on these findings, Chung and her team plan to dig deeper into patterns of polysubstance use. “Co-use of these substances are related to increased risk for substance-related problems, and other mental health conditions like depression,” Chung said. “They all travel together in women.”