Why were women drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic?

By Salma Mahmoud | Medically reviewed by Amanda Zeglis, DO, MBA
Published November 30, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant spike in alcohol consumption, particularly among women.

  • Alcohol-related deaths rose by about 42% among women between the ages of 35 to 44 from 2019 to 2020, the first full year of the pandemic.

  • Healthcare professionals should be aware of this trend and should discuss the potential health hazards associated with heavy alcohol consumption, especially with female patients.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we live our lives. Many people turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism during the trying times of the pandemic—particularly women.

Studies have shown that there is a link between anxiety developed during the pandemic and an increase in alcohol consumption in women, creating a need for clinicians to address this growing problem with women patients.

Reasons for increased alcohol consumption

Women were hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic because they were forced to take on additional responsibilities like working from home while taking care of and teaching home-schooled kids, as well as facing additional emotional stress, according to research published by Newswise.[]

This research showed that women experienced layoffs at higher rates than men, while many voluntarily left their jobs due to the lack of childcare available during the pandemic lockdown. These circumstances left them with higher rates of anxiety and deteriorating mental health, which led to higher rates of drinking.

Susan Stewart, PhD, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, told Newswise that, “during the pandemic, there was this proliferation of jokes and memes about mothers drinking to get through the day, and now, people are starting to say, ‘No, why are we doing this? Why aren't we addressing the root problems of our stress—of not getting support at home, balancing work and family, taking care of relatives?’”

Related: Mental health consequences of pandemic-era drinking

Statistics on drinking

According to an article published by Harvard Health, women faced changes in productivity and higher rates of clinically significant anxiety, as well as sleep-, mood-, and health-related issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[]

Women were also at higher risk for suffering from depression, anxiety, and insomnia. These can in turn be further increased by heavy alcohol use.

Alcohol consumption may lead to other health risks such as hypertension, liver disease, and cancer, as well as cognitive impairments.

Because women metabolize alcohol differently than men, they often achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood after drinking the same amount. As a result, this can lead women to be more susceptible to the negative effects of consuming alcohol.

The effects of increased alcohol consumption have led to extremely serious consequences, as reported in an NBC News article.[] There was a general rise in alcohol-related deaths by about 26% percent among both men and women, but for women between the ages of 35 and 44, there was an even larger increase in deaths—about 42%. Among women between the ages of 25 and 34, there was a 34% rise in deaths related to alcohol consumption.

Related: Lockdown drinking: The health impacts researchers are starting to see

Possible treatment options

If patients are experiencing alcohol dependency issues, there are several forms of treatment depending on the seriousness of the drinking.

Medications such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are FDA-approved to help with stopping or reducing drinking, according to information published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.[]

There are also behavioral treatments such as alcohol counseling or talk therapy that aim to change drinking behaviors and provide emotional and motivational support to patients. These treatments can be used as standalone options or through a combined approach.

Hopefully, these treatments can help patients—particularly women—reduce their COVID-19-prompted alcohol consumption as the effects of the pandemic continue to subside.

What this means for you

Many health issues are related to increased alcohol consumption—both physical and mental. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many mental health issues, which also led to increased physical ailments—especially in women, as the pandemic caused their drinking to increase. Patients should be made aware of these increased health risks when consuming greater amounts of alcohol. Physicians can stay up to date on these trends and discuss them with patients, along with possible treatment options.

Read Next: Do alcohol cues and cravings affect women differently than men?

In our Women's Health Focus feature, we'll offer insights and practical guidance to support you in providing the comprehensive and personalized care that women need throughout their life stages. We invite you to submit any topic you'd like to see covered and let us know if you'd like to be a guest author.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter