Equality still has a long way to go.
Take paychecks. Although it’s narrowed somewhat since the 1980s, the gender pay gap is still with us: Pew Research’s May 2021 report found women only earned 84% of what men made. For anyone who values gender equity, it’s frustrating news made even more so by the events of 2020.
However, there is one area in which the gender gap has narrowed considerably: alcohol use.
Here’s an example: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2019 national survey found young women from their teens to their early 20s increasingly reported using alcohol in the past year. Meanwhile the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research analyzed substance use by adolescents between 1975 and 2019, found female adolescents were increasingly reporting having been drunk as much as their male counterparts.
It’s not a new development, either.
A Growing Trend
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women have been slowly matching men in drinking habits for a long time, including harmful behaviors like binge drinking and alcohol use disorder. It’s not just a trend in the U.S., either – a report published by the British Medical Journal in 2016 reviewed multiple studies and found women were increasingly matching men in drinking habits world-wide.
Much like SAMHSA’s data, the trend was particularly pronounced among young women.
It’s somewhat easy to look at these trends and draw the wrong conclusion. We live in a free society, most of us think gender equality is a good thing overall, so why should we be alarmed if more women drink? It’s their business; shaming women for enjoying the occasional drink is old-fashioned and borderline misogynist.
For those of us in the treatment industry, any change in drinking habits is alarming. Drinking more and more – particularly in response to stressors – can be dangerous. Unfortunately, the events of 2020 might accelerate this trend even more.
Data Suggests Women Use Alcohol As Coping Mechanism
During the pandemic in late 2020, a study on drinking habits was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. It examined survey data taken from over 800 people in 2019 and 2020, discovering more people reported drinking during the past 30 days in 2020 than they did the previous year.
Again, the increase was particularly pronounced with women. Data showed women were 17% more likely to report drinking alcohol in 2020 and reported days of heavy drinking 42% more often.
The pattern was seen again in the results of an online survey from June 2020. Researchers invited around 750 participants – half of them women – to participate in the survey asking about both their drinking habits, mental health, and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you might expect, respondents who reported greater amounts of anxiety about the pandemic reported their drinking had increased. However, there was a major difference between the male and female respondents: at lower levels of stress, men drank more than the women … but at higher levels of stress, the women reported drinking as much as the men did.
Combined, the results of the two studies suggest women increasingly turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism during the pandemic.
It’s no secret that the pandemic changed many people’s drinking habits for the worse. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from July 2020 found 12% of respondents saying they engaged in increased alcohol and/or drug use. Worst of all, these emerging trends come on the tail of an alarming pattern: a study published in 2018 found a considerable increase in women being admitted to the ER for alcohol-related reasons.
There is one more reason to be concerned about women and increased drinking: due to differences in physiology, women are at increased risk from the harmful effects of alcohol.
Negative Effects of Alcohol More Pronounced
While men tend to drink larger amounts of alcohol, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) warns the health effects of long-term alcohol use affect women more severely. The agency warns excessive drinking puts women at a higher risk of:
- Brain and mental problems
- Cancer, including breast, mouth, and colon
- Heart disease
- Liver diseases like cirrhosis
Additionally, the CDC cautions heavy drinking is a risk factor for sexual violence.
It’s understandable why people in distress often turn to alcohol – for Americans, it’s almost ingrained in our culture. Kicking back with a stiff drink after a hard week at work or celebrating a major milestone is pretty much a tradition. Why?
Alcohol slows the central nervous system, which is why people feel relaxed after they drink – as a coping mechanism, you can see the attraction. After a few drinks, alcohol’s effects on emotions and memory mean a stressful day or week can fade into the background.
Although there are certainly healthy coping mechanisms, alcohol is often a poor one. Eventually, the sedative qualities of alcohol wear off over time, meaning you have to drink more to feel the same way. Increased tolerance means increased amounts of alcohol, which means increased health risks including drinking too much, the diseases listed above, and eventually dependence.
Plus, hangovers are a major source of stress, and not just because they feel terrible.
It’s also understandable why 2020 would cause anyone to drink, regardless of gender. Uncertainty, fear, grief – all of us likely experienced one or more of them during the pandemic and finding an easy answer in alcohol is tempting. It’s equally easy to fall into a trap of using alcohol to cope over and over again … until it’s the only way a person can function.
Things can be different. Alcohol use disorder is treatable, and with the right drug and alcohol treatment program anyone can learn healthy coping mechanisms without the need to drink. In stressful times, having a positive, supportive, and compassionate community to rely on makes a real difference … without the hangovers.
Enter SoberLivingNearYou.com. Participating in a sober community while undertaking recovery isn’t just a real advantage – it allows you to forge new, healthy connections as you make a major positive life change. SoberLivingNearYou.com puts thousands of sober living houses at your fingertips, allowing you to find the perfect sober living match for your needs.