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The truth about alcohol and women

Personal health · Mar 9, 2021

As we continue to understand the enormous physical, economic and emotional outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning more about the increased use of alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Studies show that women in particular have increased their consumption of alcohol by up to 50 per cent.

Let’s consider the burden women are carrying.

  • Financial insecurity is heightened for women, who generally earn less and hold less secure jobs to begin with.

  • Unpaid care work has increased during the pandemic, with children home from school in many regions and increased care needs of older family members.

  • Gender-based violence has increased exponentially, with many women forced into lockdown with their abusers. (At the same time, the social services they may normally rely on may have been disrupted or made inaccessible).

  • Being a female frontline worker is a risk factor for certain types of psychological distress associated with caring for COVID-19 patients.

Of course, there are also fewer sources of entertainment, fewer options for socializing with friends, and fewer ways to unwind after an intense day of working from home while home-schooling kids in a confined space. Women often bear the bulk of the burden of household responsibilities, too.

The 50 per cent uptake in drinking often happens slowly.

For many women, this may look like having a single glass of wine on most nights, or drinking more heavily just once weekly. But women have a lower threshold for safe consumption of alcohol than men: Canadian guidelines recommend consuming a maximum of 10, and ideally less than seven, drinks per week for women. Binge drinking — consuming four or more drinks over a two-hour period — is even more dangerous.

The long-term effects of women over-consuming alcohol are wide-reaching.

Several cancers such as colon, liver, esophageal, mouth and certain types of breast are associated with increased alcohol consumption. There is also an increased risk of liver failure, heart disease, osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms in women who over-consume alcohol.

Alcohol consumption is often an indicator of mental health.

Women are facing higher levels of anxiety and loneliness than men during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of the women I see in practice are reaching for alcohol to self-medicate for anxiety, sleep disorders and for depressed mood.

Paradoxically, alcohol is a depressant that actually lowers mood and causes more sleep interruption. The vicious cycle of anxiety, low mood and poor sleep — followed by alcohol consumption — is the current pattern for many.

How can we help break the cycle?

  • Try to limit alcohol consumption to weekends, or at least initially skipping a few days mid-week.

  • Make a rule to never drink alone.

  • Keep a schedule every day, even if work does not require one or if you are not working.

  • Exercise everyday, even if only for 10 minutes at a time.

  • Go outside everyday.

  • Only look at the news for brief updates regarding the pandemic.

  • Try some type of quiet relaxation that takes you offline, like mediation, reading, painting or listening to music.

  • Explore resources like TELUS Health Virtual Care, Espri, Bounce Back Ontario, Mood Gym and MoodFX.

If you are worried about your alcohol consumption, stress levels or your ability to cope with challenges, get instant support from Canadian clinicians any time of day or night using our virtual care platforms.

It’s important that you do not delay your healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that you get a full picture of the current state of your health and wellness.

Connect with us to learn more about our personalized care services.

Authored by:
Dr. Kathee Andrews
Physician, TELUS Health Care Centres