Is COVID-19 making women drink more? Research says yes.

Researchers find that women are drinking more heavily during COVID-19.

  • Binge drinking is up significantly among women since March.
  • The pandemic has placed a bigger burden on women, which leads to increased stress and anxiety.
  • Alcohol affects women more severely than men.
  • There are safer, more effective ways to relax and unwind as the pandemic continues.

[3 MIN READ]

After another long day of juggling work deadlines, possibly helping children with remote learning or school assignments, and general household tasks, many women are (understandably) looking for a way to unwind and relax. Unfortunately, studies suggest that one of the ways we’re coping is not the healthiest--increasing our consumption of alcohol.

In fact, one survey found that the frequency of drinking (days per month alcohol was consumed) recently increased by 17% among women and heavy drinking increased by a startling 41%. Women also experienced a 39% increase in serious health consequences that were related to alcohol consumption.

Why women are drinking more

The past year has turned daily routines completely upside-down. Suddenly, we’re working from home, managing kids’ schoolwork, navigating new recommendations like mask-wearing and physical distancing. We’re isolated and lonely and trying to survive. It’s enough to challenge even the most resilient.

Research has found that the effects COVID-19 has had on our society have been especially impactful to women, compared to their male counterparts.

And, it’s not surprising that the brunt of the pandemic stress has fallen on women. In fact, research has found that the effects COVID-19 has had on our society have been especially impactful to women, compared to their male counterparts:

  • Women are more likely to have quit or lost a job during lockdowns. (Unemployment for women jumped by 12% between February and April, compared to less than 10% for men.)
  • Women ages 25-44 are almost three times more likely to not be working due to childcare demands, compared to men.
  • Women who held low-wage jobs were often placed on the frontlines of the pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk.
  • Women are carrying the load in households – often holding more responsibilities for cleaning, feeding and helping kids with schoolwork, while also working.

These stressors, coupled with a time when we’re feeling more isolated than ever from family, friends and support organizations, make it a perfect storm for our emotional and mental health.

Alcohol’s impact on women

The constant presence of alcohol in television, movies and social media normalizes reaching for a glass of wine to unwind after a challenging day. Recipes for “quarantinis” during zoom happy hours or funny sweatshirts boasting “wine time” make it seem even more socially acceptable.   

The constant presence of alcohol in television, movies and social media normalizes reaching for a glass of wine to unwind after a challenging day.

But, it doesn’t make pouring a drink any safer or healthier – especially for women.

After all, a woman’s ability to “hold” her alcohol goes a lot farther than weight or height. Women metabolize (break down) alcohol differently than men. Even if they drink the same amount of alcohol, a woman will have a higher blood alcohol level than a man. That’s because:

These differences mean it takes less alcohol for women to become intoxicated, which ultimately makes it easier for them to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD). And, because a smaller amount of alcohol has a bigger impact on a woman’s health, they may be at greater risk of developing serious health complications, such as liver damage, heart disease, brain damage and more.

Alcohol can affect the body’s ability to fight off illnesses, like the flu and COVID-19.

It’s not just the long-term effects of alcohol use women should be wary of. Using alcohol to wind down from the day can become a dangerous habit both mentally and physically. Alcohol can affect the body’s ability to fight off illnesses, like the flu and COVID-19. It can also increase the risk of developing lung-related diseases, like respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia.

Healthier ways to cope

If you find yourself relying on alcohol more often to de-stress from the day, or you notice that each time you drink, you need more to feel a “buzz”, you might benefit from finding a new way to cope. Fortunately, there are many other healthier ways to deal with these emotionally draining times. Here are a few to try:

  • Start a new hobby – preferably one that keeps your hands busy. Grab a jigsaw puzzle or try your hand at crochet. These simple and fun hobbies engage your body and mind. Not to mention busy hands make it harder to sip a drink!
  • Get moving. Physical activity has been proven to reduce stress and boost your mood. Try to get in 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. You could also try yoga which has both physical and mental benefits.
  • Talk to someone. Whether you’re concerned about your drinking or not, talking with a trusted friend or a healthcare professional can help you process emotions and find healthy ways to manage the stress and anxiety just about everyone is experiencing right now.
  • Create an evening ritual. Winding down at the end of the day doesn’t have to revolve around a glass of wine. It can be a quiet, relaxing bath filled with your favorite scent, time spent reading a good book, enjoying a piece of dark chocolate or even meditating for 10 minutes. Find what speaks to you and create a new routine you can look forward to at the end of each day; and something that satisfies both your body and mind.
  • Bring a fizzy (non-alcoholic) drink to your next Zoom happy hour. With virtual events often being the best ways to connect with friends and family near and far, you can still participate in happy hour without the alcohol. Try flavored sparkling water in a fancy glass, seltzer with a twist of lime, or even a festive non-alcoholic cider.

If you’re concerned about your drinking, talk to your primary care provider. They’ll confidentially work with you to help assess your habits and connect you with the resources and support you need to help you feel better.

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