Study finds high rates of alcohol misuse and binge drinking among Harlem residents during COVID-19

Jul 5, 2023 | News

A new study published in the Journal of Urban Health by CUNY SPH doctoral student Thinh Vu and faculty Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, Deborah Levine (PRI Community Convening and Learning Co-Lead), Luisa N. Borrell and Victoria K. Ngo found that high rates of alcohol misuse and binge drinking were prevalent among Harlem residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online cross-sectional study was conducted among 398 adult residents between April and September 2021. Participants with a score of at least 3 for females or at least 4 for males out of 12 on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C) were considered to have alcohol misuse. Binge drinking was defined as self-reporting having six or more drinks on one occasion.

The study found that Approximately 42.7% of Harlem residents reported drinking alcohol before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City and 69.1% reported alcohol use during the pandemic. More than a third initiated or increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (38.7%). Over half of residents reported alcohol misuse (52.3%) and binge drinking (57.0%) during COVID-19. Among those who engage in binge drinking, 38.9% reported infrequent binge drinking with less than monthly or monthly, and 18.1% reported frequent binge drinking on a weekly, daily or almost daily basis.

The study also found that several psychosocial factors were associated with an increased risk of alcohol misuse and binge drinking, including depression, substance use, housing insecurity and lower satisfaction with community policing. The findings suggest that Harlem residents may have resorted to alcohol use as a coping mechanism to deal with the impacts of depression and social stressors during COVID-19. To mitigate alcohol misuse, improving access to mental health and substance use disorder services and addressing public safety through improving relations with police could be beneficial.

Vu presented the paper at the 2022 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Expo in Boston and was among the top 10 Student Outstanding Work Award Candidates. Vu stated that “the findings of this study are concerning, as they suggest that alcohol misuse and binge drinking are significant public health problems in Harlem. It will be important to direct public health measures and policies toward not just alcohol misuse, but its psycho-social factors.”

The study highlights that future interventions are necessary to screen not only for alcohol use, but for these other disorders such as mental health and substance use disorders to allow a multifaceted approach to mitigate the burden of alcohol misuse on society.

Read the full study at the Journal of Public Health.