We all have our vices and coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, when some of us are feeling stressed, instead of reaching for the yoga mat, we’d rather reach for our favorite bottle of wine. In fact, excessive alcohol use is a common response to coping with stress, and this is probably while alcohol sales have skyrocketed in the past year – what with us living in a pandemic and all.
That said, while both men and women have turned to alcohol to cope with their anxieties in the past year, it appears that women seem to be enjoying their glasses of wine a bit more.
Women, COVID-19, and alcohol
The emotional impact of COVID-19 on women
The pandemic hasn’t been easy on any of us, but it’s been particularly difficult for women all over the world. According to research;
- 40% of South African women said they felt anxious, as a result of COVID-19 compared to 32% of men
- In the USA, women were more likely to have depression symptoms before and during the pandemic than men
- In the UK, 15.3% of women developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms compared to 10.% of men
- Out of the three million job losses in South Africa, as a result of COVID–19, two million were held by women (black women were the most vulnerable with an unemployment rate of 38.5%)
- In the United Kingdom, women have lost nearly three percentage points more jobs to unemployment than men
- In the United States, female workforce participation has already dropped to 57%—the lowest level since 1988.
- Reports of gender-based violence significantly rose during the lockdown period.
Coupled with the fact that women have increased the amount of time they spend on household tasks, be it child-rearing and the completion of chores, it’s easy to say that the pandemic has been harder on them than men, so it’s understandable why they’ve turned to certain coping mechanisms.
Are women drinking more wine?
- a 16% increase in the proportion of women who drink alcohol
- a 58% increase in women’s heavy drinking (versus 16% in men)
- an 84% increase in women’s one-year prevalence of alcohol use disorder (versus 35% in men)
It’s clear that even before the global pandemic, there was an increase in the amount of alcohol that women consumed. That said, according to a new study, it appears that the coronavirus pandemic accelerated these numbers.
Did the pandemic turn women into heavy drinkers?
A new study, published in the Journal of Gynecology and Women’s Health, found that nearly two-thirds of women have been drinking more since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I was hearing a lot of things, especially on social media, about women drinking more because of COVID-19,” said Susan Stewart, professor of sociology at Iowa State University. “There were a lot of memes about women homeschooling, and it would show their progression of drinks throughout the day, from mimosas and bloody marys in the morning to wine and shots in the afternoon. There were a lot of jokes like that, but from previous research, we know that women’s alcohol use has increased dramatically over the past decade – and that this is no joke.”
For the study, Stewart and her colleagues used data from the RAND Corporation American Life Panel (ALP), a nationally representative probability-sampled panel of 6,000 English and Spanish-speaking participants. For the study, the researchers looked at 2615 panel members ages 30-80.
The researchers collected the data in two halves – waves 1 and 2. Wave 1 featured 2615 participants aged between 30 and 80 years. This was between April 29 and June 9, 2019. Of these, a total of 1771 participants completed the survey.
The data for wave 2 data was gathered during the pandemic between May 28 and June 16, 2020. This was during the nationwide social distancing norm implementation. For wave 2, 58.9% of the respondents in wave 1 completed the survey.
The overall results showed:
- The frequency of alcohol consumption increased overall
- A 0.74 days rise from the average 5.48 days in 2019 for men and 0.78 days rise from the average 4.58 days in 2019 for women
- There was a 14 percent and 17 percent increase in alcohol use from baseline respectively for men and women
- Among women, there was an increase of 0.18 days of heavy drinking from a 2019 baseline of 0.44 days. This was a 41 percent rise from 2019.
- For 1 in 5 women, there was an increase of an average of 1 day of drinking during the pandemic.
- Among women, there was a significant increase in alcohol-related problems independent of consumption levels among nearly 10 percent of women.
- Married women experienced the greatest increases in alcohol use compared to other women during the pandemic.
“What’s happening with those married women that they’re finding it more necessary to use alcohol more?” Stewart asked.
What does this mean?
While there were some limitations to the study, the researchers remain adamant about the importance of the study.
“Nonetheless, these results suggest that examination of whether increases in alcohol use persist as the pandemic continues and whether psychological and physical well-being are subsequently affected may be warranted,” the researchers concluded.
Stewart hopes to use the findings in a book that she plans on publishing next year. The book will be based on her interviews with women about their use of alcohol in relation to work, relationships, motherhood, and its overall societal impact.
What health risks does alcohol use pose for women?
As women absorb higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood, research has found that they are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than men. As such, studies have found that women are more susceptible to the long-term negative health effects of alcohol compared with men (1).
For women, alcohol can increase their risk of breast cancer, liver disease, cognitive decline, and heart damage (2).
“In addition to a range of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol use may lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression which may themselves be increasing during COVID-19.” explained the researchers of the study. We already know that women face twice the risk of depression and anxiety compared to men, and alcohol use can only exacerbate these mental health concerns.
That said, a 2019 study found that women who quit alcohol can significantly improve their mental health.
Finding treatment is hard
Now, while it can be easy to judge women who are drinking more, the researchers of the study do point out that women face persistent barriers when it comes to getting treatment for alcohol overuse:
“Guilt, shame, being perceived as a “bad mom”, lack of childcare, the cost of treatment, and familial opposition, the lack of gender-specific treatment, physicians being slow to recognize [alcohol use disorders] in women, and for single mothers, the potential loss of custody,” according to the study.
Changing your alcohol habits
If you’re worried about how many bottles of wine you’re finishing on your own, there are a few small changes you can make to your drinking habits:
- Track your drinking: Use a drinking app that will help you understand how much you’re actually drinking.
- Understand your triggers: Dinner? Hormonal kids? Work stress? Knowing what drives you to drink won’t only help you adjust your drinking habits, but it will also encourage you to find healthier coping mechanisms, like deep breathing.
- Adopt sober habits: If you enjoy a glass of wine while reading your favorite book, swap it out for a bowl of nuts. If you enjoy a martini while snuggling up with your partner during a Netflix documentary, swap it out for a cup of green tea.
- Stick to the recommended glass a day
- Know when to ask for help: It can be hard to, but if you’re worried about your drinking, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support.
Dealing with COVID-stress
- Meditation and deep breathing
- Teamwork makes the dream work: One of the reasons women were hit the hardest during the pandemic was because they tried to balance both family and career. That said, it’s important that they ask their partners to be partners and step up in regards to childcare and other household chores.
- Eat right
- Get some fresh air (don’t forget your mask)
- Get some beauty sleep
- Self care is the best care: You don’t need a glass of wine to soak in a bath.