Background: Pre-pandemic research found a connection between alcohol consumption and reduced physical distancing among strangers. Understanding the association between alcohol consumption at social gatherings and observance of COVID-19 restrictions can help inform policy related to the safe operation of public spaces where alcohol is typically consumed, as well as guidance related to the safe conduct of social events in private spaces.

Methods: We conducted a rapid review using adapted systematic review methods to explore the association between alcohol consumption in social gatherings and compliance with COVID-19 public health measures and produced a narrative synthesis of our findings. We ran searches in eleven health-related databases (MEDLINE, PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, Embase (Ovid), ProQuest Public Health, ProQuest Coronavirus, Global Health (Ovid), WHO COVID-19 literature database, PsycInfo (Ovid) and ASSIA) between July 9, 2021, and July 31, 2021. We assessed methodological quality using the relevant Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) checklists. This review was conducted and reported in accordance with PRISMA-P guidelines.

Results: We identified 7936 studies from the searches. After title, abstract and full-text review, three cross-sectional studies were eligible for inclusion. One study found that people who adhered strongly to physical distancing rules were engaged in about 40% fewer weekly drinks and 60% fewer heavy episodic drinking occasions in a week than people who adhered poorly to physical distancing rules (P < 0.01). One study found that people who reported low-risk alcohol consumption patterns had a higher chance of adhering to hand hygiene measures than those who reported high-risk alcohol consumption (odds ratio (OR) = 4.24, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.08-16.64). No other statistically significant results on patterns of alcohol consumption and compliance with individual public health measures or with non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) were found. The direction of effect between alcohol consumption and non-adherence to NPIs and the effect of confounding factors has not been established. The quality of studies found was low to moderate, with risk of recall bias and selection bias due to study design; and the extent to which those studies can be generalised beyond their original settings may be limited.

Conclusions: Despite existing evidence suggesting an association between alcohol consumption, reduced physical distancing, and increased social interaction, we found few studies of variable quality exploring the relationship between alcohol consumption and compliance with public health measures. A possible association between higher-risk alcohol behaviours and lower compliance with certain NPIs was suggested, but the direction of effect is unknown, and further studies are required to confirm this finding.


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Cite as

Kulkarni, D., Nundy, M., McSwiggan, E., Adams, E., Dozier, M., Hartnup, K., Leow, A., Mureyi, D., Nelson, S., McQuillan, R. & Theodoratou, E. 2022, 'To what extent is alcohol consumption in social gatherings associated with observance of COVID-19 restrictions?:A rapid review', Journal of Global Health, 12 , article no: 13001. https://doi.org/10.7189/jogh.12.13001

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Last updated: 30 May 2023
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