BACKGROUND: There has been widespread concern that the COVID-19 pandemic may be a high-risk time for alcohol use among heavy drinking populations such as college students . Initial efforts to evaluate changes in college drinking have not yet accounted for typical drinking patterns within a semester .
METHODS: To fill this gap, we evaluated how college student drinking patterns changed with the onset of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic during spring 2020 relative to spring 2018 and 2019 . Participants were 1,365 college students aged 19 and older, including 895 students who reported past-month alcohol use . Daily drinking data were extracted from an online Timeline Followback survey .
RESULTS: Negative binomial hurdle models revealed that, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, college student drinkers did not increase their drinking frequency as was typical in late spring semester, and the number of drinks per occasion declined substantially (28% reduction), greater than the change observed from early to late spring 2018 (3% reduction) or spring 2019 (8% increase). This reduction in drinking quantity in spring 2020 was larger for college student drinkers who moved residences because of the pandemic (49% reduction) than students who did not move (21% reduction). Perceptions in pandemic-related changes in drinking also revealed that 83.5% of college student drinkers self-reported that their drinking stayed the same or decreased .
CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that, on average, college students drank less-not more-during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the importance of living situation in college student drinking behavior . More research is needed to assess alcohol use in other universities, as this information could be utilized in norms-based interventions to further reduce drinking in students who remain at risk.
Index: Alcohol Use, COVID-19, Coronavirus, University Students, Young Adults