The Climbing Rates of Alcohol Use In Women, Especially Moms

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Since COVID-19 began, alcohol use among Americans has skyrocketed. Alarmingly, a recent study from RTI International found that women with children under age five seem to be the most vulnerable to excessive drinking--with rates that increased 323% during the pandemic.

"This past year has brought a lot of instability and change, especially for women with young children," says Elizabeth Bulat, M.D., an addiction specialist at Henry Ford Maplegrove Center. "Many of these women have been working from home while trying to homeschool young children. There was a lot of stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol just became a coping mechanism."

The Accessibility and Impact of Alcohol

Even before the pandemic, alcohol intake among women was on the uptick. Popular culture has normalized the idea that drinking relieves stress, particularly for women. Images of overwhelmed moms guzzling wine to cope with everyday pressures have become more common throughout social media, television shows and movies.

"Unlike other substances that are difficult to obtain, alcohol is available 24/7," Dr. Bulat says. "It's at every corner store in Michigan, and during the pandemic people can get alcohol delivered." That's an especially attractive option for women who are on spending even more time at home with young children and feeling isolated.

The Health Effects of Alcohol Intake

According to health authorities, the maximum alcohol intake for women is one drink per day and no more than seven drinks each week. "Drinking more than that can lead to serious health effects ranging from disrupted sleep to worsening depression, diabetes and hypertension," Dr. Bulat says.

In fact, excess alcohol consumption is linked to several diseases, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer (drinking at any level is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer)
  • Liver damage
  • Cognitive decline
  • Suicide (more than half of suicides occur under the influence of alcohol)

"Daily drinking and binge drinking both have negative effects on health and well-being, and the negative effects may be more pronounced among women," Dr. Bulat says.

Women tend to be smaller than men and they have physiological differences that put them at increased risk of alcohol-related woes like liver disease and alcohol-related dementia.

A Healthier Approach to Alcohol

There's some evidence that drinking in moderation, particularly red wine, may be beneficial for heart health. But there are other ways to enhance your heart health, and you should never drink alcohol for health reasons.

So how do you know if you have a problem? Pay attention to these three red flags:

  1. Drinking solo. Drinking alone can escalate quickly. "If you increase your drinking, who is going to know?" says Dr. Bulat. "There's no accountability."
  2. Hiding your intake. If you're sneaking a drink when no one is looking or hiding bottles of wine or liquor from family members, that's a sign of problematic drinking.
  3. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Think it's okay to use alcohol to take the edge off or loosen up? "That's self-medicating with a mood-altering substance, and it's a big red flag," Dr. Bulat says.

Cutting back on your alcohol intake isn't always easy, particularly when you're navigating the stress and anxiety of a global pandemic. But you don’t have to go it alone. There are a number of resources available to help you curb your intake or stop drinking altogether.

"The first step is to talk to your primary healthcare provider to assess whether you're struggling with alcohol addiction or whether you can curb your usage with small lifestyle changes," Dr. Bulat says. "There are medications available to help you break the habit." Community resources such as alcoholics anonymous may be helpful, too.

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To find a doctor or an addiction specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Elizabeth Bulat specializes in addiction medicine and is the medical director of Henry Ford’s Maplegrove Center in West Bloomfield.

Categories: FeelWell