Pandemic boozehounds: Is our alcohol intake really up? Scarily so, for these people

We might not be drinking more overall during the pandemic, but there’s one group of Australians whose habits are deeply concerning: Women.

Already, women have been closing the consumption gap between the genders – men traditionally being the bigger drinkers.

The effects of the global pandemic – job losses and insecurity, home schooling and all the stress that comes with a life-altering event – have manifested in higher alcohol consumption rates among women.

Nicole Lee is Adjunct Professor at the National Drug Research Institute, and said while overall, the alcohol habits of Australians have remained fairly steady, it was a completely different story for women.

Women’s drinking has increased substantially, Dr Lee told The New Daily.

“There’s a number of studies that have linked that to additional home duties – trying to juggle working from home with homeschooling, and typically those kinds of activities fall to women in the family and now there’s extra pressure,” Dr Lee said.

“It does look like women are much more affected, and then also their mental health is being affected by that as well.”

Lifelines kept 1.5 metres away

A similar trend was noted by a team from La Trobe University, in a paper published on Tuesday.

Its authors noted: “In the context of COVID-19, large proportions of the population have been required to work from home and supervise their child/ren’s remote learning.

“Recent polls suggest increased psychological distress among parents, particularly mothers, who are more likely to bear the burden of
multiple roles as workers, parents and teacher’s aides – which may translate to increases in consumption.”

The report also highlighted an Australian study from the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, where it found men were more likely to turn to the bottle to cope with stress – perhaps related to job loss or financial strain.

Women, however, went to relationships with friends and family to get them through it.

The pandemic and social distancing has made those relationships ever more difficult to maintain.

The La Trobe University study said more research is needed to fully understand the pandemic’s influence on people’s at-home drinking habits. Researchers said it had been hard to fully quantify the amount of drinking happening behind closed doors.

Finding help

Many of the contributing factors to women’s increased stress during the pandemic are entrenched in society – women shouldering the majority of domestic work, child care and working in less-secure industries than men.

Dr Lee acknowledges changing that will take “more time than we have”.

What we can do now, is raise awareness of the support that is available to women, and to anyone who might be struggling with their alcohol intake.

Everyone has been feeling the stress of the pandemic, but it’s particularly pronounced for women. Photo: Getty

“It’s not just a matter of drinking increasing, there’s a whole range of knock-on effects to that as well, that are going to be difficult for the people involved but also for their community,” Dr Lee said.

“We’re going to have pressure on the mental health system.”

Dr Lee, who is also on the board of Hello Sunday Morning, said there were plenty of online resources that would enable people to access them at their own pace and in the privacy of their homes.

She said not everyone would find themselves in the situation where they needed to access drug and alcohol support – they might have just found themselves drinking more than usual, and need support pulling that back to a level they’re happier with.

If you or someone you know needs help with their drinking, try these resources:

  • Counselling Online: A free online service, available 24/7
  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: A free phone service – call 1800 250 015
  • Hello Sunday Morning: A not-for-profit for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol.
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