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Early pandemic stress led to increased shopping and gambling: study

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Early pandemic stress led to increased shopping and gambling: study

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A recent study with a Canadian connection found that people were gambling, overeating and shopping more often – among other potentially addictive behaviors – due to the initial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Guelph study, along with the Institute of Psychology at Humboldt University in Berlin, found that instances of shopping, drinking, smoking, legal and illegal substance use , gambling, gaming and overeating all increased gradually for two months starting in March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, before gradually dropping to the fifth month.

The results were all self-reported over a six-month period and involved 1,430 adults from the United States.

The researchers say the study, to their knowledge, is the first to examine multiple potentially addictive behavioral problems simultaneously over a long period of time.

The study was published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions in December 2021.

“It is natural to expect people to experience distress as COVID cases increased and the lockdown was in place,” said Sunghwan Yi, professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics. of the University of Guelph, in a press release.


The researchers used self-reported online questionnaires in an Amazon survey database known as MTurk.

Between March 26 and October 2, 2020, they asked participants about their engagement in the eight potentially addictive behaviors listed and asked them to rate their level of stress caused by COVID-19.

Groups of 25 participants were sampled every three days for 191 days.

Of the 1,430 people interviewed, 562 were women and 858 men. Seven participants did not identify with any gender and three did not respond. The average age was about 37 years old.

The researchers found that the increase in addictive behaviors was linked to the intensity of people’s distress during the COVID-19 lockdown.

This was especially the case for those who engaged in legal drug use, gambling, and overeating.

The most common addictive activities reported for men were gambling, while for women it was excessive shopping.

The researchers note that although women’s shopping has increased, this may be because women normally tend to do more household shopping. The study also did not distinguish between impulse or compulsive purchases and purchases such as home renovations, which are generally not considered potentially addictive.

And although the behaviors examined declined after about five months as COVID-19 cases plummeted and lockdowns were lifted, possibly resulting in less pandemic-related stress, the researchers say these behaviors newly acquired may have persisted for some.

“If you’ve been drinking daily during this time, you’ll probably continue to drink, although maybe a little less or less often,” Yi said. “It will be difficult to suddenly reduce your alcohol consumption.”


Although the ties weren’t unexpected, Yi says people are known to feel distress when faced with an unfamiliar and threatening situation.

The researchers write that the study helps increase understanding of protracted distress, both related and unrelated to the pandemic.

Although self-reported behaviors such as substance use or bingeing cannot be considered addictions on their own, researchers say they can serve as substitutes for “truly problematic behavior.”

“When people experience distress, they are less likely to engage in constructive behaviors like building something or something work-related or reading,” Yi said. “Their first response is to escape distress.”

It also takes time and effort to develop ways to deal constructively with a situation like pandemic self-isolation, Yi says.

“Engaging in addictive behavior is an easy way out of distress because it doesn’t require much preparation or effort.”

He says the initial lockdown also revealed gaps in access to counseling and mental health services, with behaviors such as heavy drinking, gambling and shopping proving to be easy ways to unwind for many.

Some, he added, find it easier to lose control of these behaviors, especially without the support of friends and family, but can benefit from recordings by volunteer groups.

“We need to pay more attention to those people who suddenly have spare time alone,” Yi said.

He and his fellow co-authors are calling for better medical screening, especially for people with mental disorders who may not have access to counseling or other services.

Early pandemic stress led to increased shopping and gambling: study

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