Professor Susan Stewart, a scientist in the sociology department at Iowa State University, interviewed women last July to survey changes in their alcohol intake during the pandemic. Specifically, she wanted to see how coronavirus-related anxieties contributed to any changes in how much they were drinking.
“I was hearing a lot of things, especially on social media, about women drinking more because of COVID-19,” Stewart said. “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.”
She found that almost two-thirds of women reported drinking more since the beginning of the pandemic, including increases in daily drinking, drinking earlier in the day, and binge drinking.
“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,” she added.
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According to the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, between 2002 and 2013, women in the US saw a 58 percent increase in high-risk drinking and a 84 percent increase in alcohol use disorder.
Stewart’s latest study contributes to a wider discussion of the disproportionate negative effects the pandemic has had on women. A number of contributing factors have likely contributed to the study’s finding that women with higher levels of coronavirus-related anxiety were likelier to drink more; these include economic uncertainty, social isolation and increased caring duties at home.
Other factors include “…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 recognise [alcohol use disorders] in women, and for single mothers, the potential loss of custody,” the study authors wrote.
“The troubling trend of women’s increased alcohol use is further complicated by persistent barriers to women getting treatment for alcohol overuse.”
Despite marriage and children being typically associated with lower levels of alcohol consumption among women, Stewart’s study found that married women were experiencing 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 wanted to find out.
The research findings will go into a book Stewart hopes to publish 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.