Pandemic Drinking: Why women are turning to alcohol to cope with challenges

Connecticut Families

AVON, Conn. (WTNH) — With hashtags, posts, and those endless, entertaining images, “wine” is often paired with “mom” on social media as women are encouraged to wind down with a glass – or bottle – of Rose’, Chardonnay, or Merlot.

“We see the memes all over social media and the alcohol industry plays into it,” says Laura Ward of Avon. “‘Had a bad day? Here you go. Sit back, have a glass of wine, everything will be fine.’ It’s become such an accepted and expected coping mechanism.”

And statistics show it is what women have turned to for stress relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent research letter, published in the JAMA Open Network, shows that in 2020, alcohol consumption is up and, specifically, heavy drinking among women jumped an astounding 41 percent.

“Alcohol problems have been rising in women since the beginning of the 2000s,” says Dr. Charles Herrick of Nuvance Health.

“I’m not surprised at all,” adds Ward, commenting as a recovered alcoholic, someone who knows the situation all too well.

“About seven years ago, it really got to a point where I was thinking about it all the time,” says this mom of two teens who drank to cope with tension and self-esteem issues. “My drinking, at the end, was most days a six-pack of beer and two bottles of wine.”

Juggling all components of her life – motherhood, marriage, and work – contributed, as well. Ward relates to women now, feeling the weight of the pandemic, working from home while managing their kids’ virtual learning.

“You just want more because the stuff you’re trying to cope with and escape momentarily from is so much bigger,” she says.

Herrick is the chair of psychiatry for Danbury, New Milford, and Norwalk Hospitals. He says, for some, life now lacks boundaries. There’s no separation of work and home.

“Having a glass of wine helps to create that sense of separation,” he says.

But, he advises us: make an effort to find healthier rituals like getting out for an evening walk.

“The best way to fix a bad habit is to replace it with better habits,” he says.

“I’ll pour sparkling water in my wine glass,” says Ward who hasn’t had a sip of alcohol in years. The former public relations consultant is now a certified life and recovery coach, affiliated with the She Recovers Foundation.

She says, whether you just cut back or stop drinking altogether, there’s hope on the other side.

“Life is extremely different and so much better. I have a freedom now I didn’t have before,” she says. “For anyone who’s thinking about their drinking and wondering if maybe it’s too much, they’ve already answered their own question.”

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