Objectives and Aims The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has required drastic safety measures to contain virus spread, including an extended self-isolation period. Those with greater perceived or actual life stress are vulnerable to develop or reinstate problematic behaviours characterised by addiction and compulsive mechanisms. Thus, we assessed how the COVID-19 pandemic and isolation measures affected alcohol consumption and internet use in the general population.
Methods We developed an online international survey, entitled Habit Tracker (HabiT), completed by 1,346 adults (≥18 years), which measured changes in amount and severity of alcohol consumption (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test; AUDIT),online gaming (Internet Gaming Disorder Scale-Short Form; IGDS9-SF), and pornography viewing (Cyber Pornography Addiction Test; CYPAT) before (post-hoc recall)and during the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown. These measures were related to ten COVID-19-specific stress factors. Lastly, we assessed psychiatric factors widely recognized to be associated with problematic alcohol and internet use such as anxiety, depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale; HADS), and impulsivity (Short Impulsive-Behavior Scale; SUPPS-P).
Results Of the sample, we observed an overall increase in online gaming and a decrease alcohol consumption and pornography viewing. Those who increased their amount and severity of alcohol use (36%) during lockdown reported stress associated with the pandemic itself, such as being an essential worker directly caring for those with or having a loved one become severely ill from COVID-19. Further, those residing in the United Kingdom- as opposed the United States or Canada- increased their weekly amount of alcohol consumption. Alternatively, those who increased online gaming (64%) and pornography viewing (43%)reported low frequency or poor quality social interactions resultant of lockdown measures. All three groups displayed higher levels of depression, anxiety, and urgency impulsivity.
Conclusions Our findings underscore the theoretical mechanism of negative emotionality underlying forms of compulsive behaviour driven by stress, depression, and anxiety; while highlighting distinct avenues by which these behaviours can manifest. Limitations include subjects being within varying phases of lockdown during the time of testing and a large degree of study dropout (n=1,515). We emphasise the relevance of identifying those in need of greater support services to mitigate negative health outcomes associated with problematic alcohol consumption and internet usage in the context of COVID-19 isolation.
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