Dawn Sugarman, PhD
Shelly Greenfield, MD, MPH
Excessive alcohol use is a common response to coping with stress. Alcohol use increased following the September 11th terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The COVID-19 pandemic is following this same path. However, this pandemic is different in its scope and duration. COVID-19 is associated with both negative health and economic impacts, as well as grief, loss, and prolonged stress and uncertainty.
The emotional impact of COVID-19 on women
According to the U.S. National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report, compared to men, women reported higher rates of pandemic-related changes in productivity, sleep, mood, health-related worries, and frustrations with not being able to do enjoyable activities. Women with children under age 18 had higher rates of clinically significant anxiety, compared to men with children under age 18 and to women with no minor children. Women are more likely to shoulder the burden of household tasks, caregiving, and child-rearing than men. Stay-at-home orders to stop transmission of COVID-19 led to decreased childcare support and the additional burden of remote schooling.
Rising rates of alcohol use in women
You only need to glance at social media to get the message that there is a “cure” for pandemic-related stress: alcohol. Social media sites are rife with memes of moms drinking to relieve their stress. And alcohol is now easier than ever to obtain through delivery sites and apps. Therefore, it is not surprising that we are seeing a disproportionate effect of the pandemic on women’s alcohol use. Rates of alcohol use, heavy drinking (defined as four or more drinks on one occasion), and related disorders in women were rising even before the pandemic. Between 2001–02 and 2012–13, there was a 16% increase in the proportion of women who drink alcohol, a 58% increase in women’s heavy drinking (versus 16% in men), and an 84% increase in women’s one-year prevalence of an alcohol use disorder (versus 35% in men).
This is in part due to changing social norms around female alcohol consumption and the alcohol industry’s targeted marketing to women. The pandemic has further increased rates of alcohol use in women. According to a RAND Corporation study, during the pandemic women have increased their heavy drinking days by 41% compared to before the pandemic. Additional research has shown that the psychological stress related to COVID-19 was associated with greater drinking for women, but not men.
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necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ‘FASD Prevention Conversation, A Shared Responsibility Project’, its stakeholders, and/or funders.