Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research








Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has been linked to stress, anxiety, and depression among college students, with heightened distress tied to greater drinking for some individuals. Emerging research suggests that these associations may differ across race, but few studies use adequate samples to examine this, particularly among college students, an at-risk population for both heavy drinking and mental distress. Specifically, pandemic-related stressors and mental distress may be higher among Black students than White students. The current study examined: (1) whether mental distress cross-sectionally mediates the association between pandemic-specific stressors and drinking and (2) whether race (Black or White) moderates these associations.

Methods: A cross-sectional online survey of 400 college drinkers (43% White, 28% Black) in fall 2020 assessed pandemic-related stressors (e.g., losing a job, contracting COVID-19, changed living situation), mental distress (stress, anxiety, depression), and drinking (past-month drinking, perceived changes since the start of the pandemic).

Results: Cross-sectional mediation models indicated that financial stressors and social distancing were linked to greater quantity and frequency of past-month drinking through greater mental distress. For perceived changes in drinking, only financial stressors were linked to drinking greater quantities and drinking more often (compared to pre-pandemic levels) via mental distress. Moderated mediation models among students identifying as White or Black revealed that changed living situation was a robust stressor across race. Financial stressors and social distancing were linked with greater distress only among White students, whereas essential worker status was a protective factor against distress only among Black students.

Conclusions: Select stressors were linked to increased drinking through greater mental distress, with differential risks across Black versus White students. Findings suggest campus administrators should focus on connecting students with resources (e.g., counseling centers and health promotion offices) during times of distress.


© 2023 The Authors.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Data Availability

Article states: "The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request."

Original Publication Citation

Braitman, A. L., Ayala Guzman, R., Strowger, M., Shipley, J. L., Glenn, D. J., Junkin, E., Whiteside, A., & Lau-Barraco, C. (2023). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic experiences on college drinking via mental distress: Cross-sectional mediation moderated by race. Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research, 47(12), 2313-2330.


0000-0003-2259-1094 (Braitman), 0000-0001-6433-7313 (Guzman), 0000-0002-8476-5099 (Strowger), 0000-0002-5203-4486 (Shipley), 0000-0002-2420-5559 (Junkin), 0000-0002-2072-5477 (Lau-Barraco)