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Fruehwirth, Jane Cooley; Gorman, Benjamin L.; & Perreira, Krista M. (2021). The Effect of Social and Stress-Related Factors on Alcohol Use among College Students during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Journal of Adolescence Health, 69(4), 557-565. PMCID: PMC8415772


PURPOSE: The aim of this article is to study how Covid-19 stress-related factors and changes in social engagement during the pandemic contributed to changes in alcohol use among first-year college students.
METHODS: We used data on 439 first-year students (ages 18-20) at a large public university in North Carolina both before (October 2019 to February 2020) and after (June/July 2020) the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. We evaluated changes in prevalence and days of alcohol use and binge drinking. We estimated the associations between Covid-19 stressors/stress (work reductions, health, distanced learning difficulties, perceived stress) and social engagement (perceived social support from friends, social isolation, and social distancing) after controlling for students' pre-pandemic alcohol use, social engagement, and demographic characteristics.
RESULTS: We found that the prevalence of alcohol use and binge drinking in the past 30 days decreased from 54.2% to 46.0% and 35.5% to 24.6%, respectively; days of use did not change significantly. The decreases were primarily associated with reductions in social engagement. Among Covid-19 stressors/stress, only challenges with distance learning were associated with higher alcohol use among those who were already drinking prior to the pandemic. Drinking increased more among those who endorsed using substances to cope, while drinking was not associated with resilient coping.
CONCLUSIONS: Unless new drinking habits are formed during the pandemic, decreases in alcohol use among college students are unlikely to be sustained as social distancing measures are removed. Colleges may want to target interventions to students who have responded to stress with increased alcohol use, partly by addressing difficulties with distance learning.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Adolescence Health


Fruehwirth, Jane Cooley
Gorman, Benjamin L.
Perreira, Krista M.

Article Type





United States of America


North Carolina


Fruehwirth - 0000-0001-5018-1143
Perreira - 0000-0003-2906-0261