The Emotional Impact of COVID-19 and Drinking Rates in Women

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Recent studies have revealed that the pandemic has brought with it an increase in heavy drinking compared to previous years. Reports further revealed that the highest rates of alcohol consumption during the pandemic have been recorded in women.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the pre-existing mental health issues and high rates of alcohol consumption are placing more women at risk for developing alcohol addiction and poor physical health.

The combination of stress, emotional difficulties, and isolation have been key factors in the higher alcohol consumption in female populations across the UK.

The Emotional Challenges of COVID-19 in Women

There has been a so-called epidemic of mental health problems and addiction that have become more prevalent during the time of the pandemic. More women are drinking heavily with negative consequences on both their mental and physical health and well-being.

Alcohol use during the pandemic has worsened with issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and economic difficulties at the fore. Women who engaged in frequent drinking prior to the pandemic have become heavy drinkers and alcohol dependent after the lockdowns.

Isolation during lockdown created loneliness and worsening of mental health conditions but it also allowed individuals to continue to drink without the awareness of friends and family.

Experts believe that the increased drinking rates in women compared to men may result from different ways of handling stress (Independent). Women have been isolated from their social groups, their friends and for some, their children, and grandchildren. Many women are also experiencing higher levels of chronic stress with greater domestic responsibilities falling on their shoulders. Home schooling, working from home, and a lack of knowledge or awareness around the dangers of heavy drinking may have contributed to the changes in drinking behaviors noted in the female population.

Drinking Rates in Women During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, research has shown that women are drinking more than they ever did before. Many women have increased their alcohol intake from social drinking to heavy and frequent alcohol consumption. This includes a lack of knowledge concerning the risk they are putting themselves in for developing alcohol addiction and alcohol-related disease.

Statistics show a 20% rise in deaths caused by heavy and problematic drinking in the UK. There has also been reports of higher rates of drinking during and after the first lockdown in 2020.

Drinking habits have changed as a result of the lockdown. More people have been drinking behind closed doors making it easier to maintain their habit but also as means of coping with loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Research has also revealed that women over the age of 50 are more likely to consume large amounts of alcohol including binge drinking in the past year.

A study concerning the factors associated with drinking habits social distancing, and lockdowns in the UK indicated that high rates of alcohol consumption and independent drinking were most prominent among female participants. The factors associated with drinking more in women included financial stress, the presence of an anxiety disorder, and the concern of getting COVID-19.

Current data has further shown that women in the age bracket 55 to 64 years had the highest drinking rates of more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Towards the end of 2020, the alcohol related death rates for women were at an all-time high reaching an average 9.7 per 100,000 compared to previous years. Statistically significant increases in alcohol consumption in both the male and the female populations for the second quarter in 2020 were noted compared to 2019.

We spoke with Paul Spanjar, owner of the Providence Projects alcohol rehab in the UK about the impact of lockdowns on women.

“Typically we find the mother, wife, partner or sister calling in about a family member’s problem with alcoholism, but more recently we are seeing more and more men calling in about their loved ones drinking habits. This change has been noted throughout the pandemic and I believe the cause to be multi-faceted. Changes to the home environment, pressure with kids & an increase in mental health related problems are driving addiction rates up amongst women”.

Paul added: “While the UK enjoys more freedoms compared with other countries as of late, the impact of lockdowns will be felt for some time to come. Addiction develops over time and it continues to be a taboo in our society, we may not know the full extent for some time to come, but the data is of grave concern”.

The Negative Impact on Mental and Physical Health

It is easy to form a habit, but it is difficult to stop it. The increased rates of drinking alcohol among women in the UK have placed more individuals and their families at risk of domestic challenges, injuries, accidents, and conflict in the home. There are also numerous mental and physical health risks associated with the long term and heavy consumption of alcohol.

The Impact on Mental Health

Alcohol has many negative effects on mental well-being but in combination with the lockdowns, the results could be much worse. Because more people are under stress, tension, and experiencing greater levels of anxiety, the pandemic has seen a sharp rise in adult drinking behaviours and alcohol dependence.

Because alcohol plays such a significant coping mechanism for those affected by stress, anxiety, and depression, there has been a drastic increase in mental health problems among adults in the UK and beyond. Unfortunately, the influence of alcohol is temporary, and it makes emotional problems worse.

The excessive use of alcohol can cause mood instability and high levels of anxiety. It can also exacerbate depression and creates strained relationships or an inability to engage in fulfilling activities that support mental health.

Physical Health Consequences

The chronic use of alcohol has caused higher rates of liver disease in men and women since 2020. Alcohol has a severe impact on the liver when consumed frequently and in large volumes. It causes inflammation, fatty liver disease, and cirrhosis. Issues of the liver constitute emergency hospital visits and intervention. However, the fear surrounding COVID-19 transmission prevented many people from seeking the medical assistance needed. In the UK, heavy drinking has increased the rates of heart disease and stroke among adults.

The combination of the stress of the pandemic, lifestyle changes, and higher levels of drinking has led to negative consequences on health and well-being.

Millions of people are drinking to the point where they are placing themselves at risk of alcohol addiction and life-threatening conditions.

Tips for Managing Alcohol Use and Stress During the Pandemic

In the midst of COVID-19, women are encouraged to seek healthy and constructive coping mechanisms including balanced diets, exercise, and most importantly mental health support. Reaching out to family and friends to overcome isolation including long term alcohol addiction groups provided by charitable organizations, private treatment or programs through the NHS can assist in creating awareness and introduce strategies for coping during challenging periods.

Making important changes by seeking the professional help and the treatment that you need can assist in making a positive difference whether you wish to quit drinking or work towards overcoming alcohol addiction.