James Clay

I am an ESRC funded PhD candidate based in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, UK. The focus of my PhD is to gain a better understanding of how situational factors (e.g., stress, boredom) and individual differences (e.g., poor inhibitory control) contribute to alcohol use and misuse. Prior to my PhD, I achieved a BSc with first-class honours in Human Physiology from the University of Portsmouth and two Master’s degrees at distinction level: MSc Social Research Methods from the University of Southampton and MRes Psychopharmacology from the University of Portsmouth. Aside from my interest in addiction, I am passionate about improving scientific practice and have been running the Portsmouth chapter of ReproducibiliTea, a journal club initiative that aims to promote transparency and rigor, since 2019. I have also worked with the Office for National Statistics for 3 months during a PhD-related placement where I analysed national suicide data.

Drinking during a pandemic: How was stress, boredom and inhibitory control related to alcohol use behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Aims. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused increased distress worldwide (e.g., social isolation, loss of income, increased childcare responsibilities, and monotony). Both stress and boredom are associated with alcohol craving and drinking, particularly among those with poor inhibitory control. Therefore, we aimed to assess whether stress, boredom and/or inhibitory control was related to alcohol use during the first ‘lockdown’.

Methods. To address our preregistered hypotheses, we analysed data (*N* = 337) collected during the first wave of the pandemic (07 April to 03 May 2020). We first assessed changes in drinking behaviour (number of units, drinking days and heavy drinking days and alcohol-related problems), stress and boredom. We then examined the relationship between drinking behaviour, trait impulsivity and risk-taking, stress, and boredom. Finally, we investigated the interactions between change in stress/boredom and inhibitory control.

Results. A significant minority of respondents reported increased alcohol use (units = 23.52%, drinking days = 20.73%, heavy days = 7.06%), alcohol-related problems (9.67%), and stress (36.63%). Meanwhile, most respondents reported increased boredom (67.42%). Surprisingly, several facets of inhibitory control (negative urgency, sensation seeking, lack of premeditation, and risk taking) were associated with decreased alcohol use. Furthermore, several boredom x inhibitory control interactions were statistically significant and suggested that for those who were more impulsive, a decrease in boredom was associated with an increase in alcohol use behaviour.

Conclusions. These data provide a nuanced overview of how some of the theoretical mechanisms which underlie alcohol misuse may have operated during a COVID-19 induced period of social isolation.