Alcohol & Women: A New Perspective

By: Guest Author

Published: February 16, 2022

Written By Gabriella Swartwood- Guest Contributor

A significant shift in alcohol consumption occurred in 2020 with the arrival of the pandemic, and drinking increased dramatically for everyone, especially women. To gather more information on this women’s health issue, we spoke with an Executive Recovery Coach, Beth Siegert, CPC, CPRC, ACC, CFAA and therapist Camille Bloomberg, MA, LPC, LCADC.

“Women are more likely to drink alcohol as a coping mechanism compared to men,” said Beth Siegert. “Recent research points to this tendency leading to a higher risk of developing an alcohol dependence. For decades, I have noticed that female clients of mine are very surprised to learn this fact. I think this lack of knowledge is at the center of women’s negative physical and mental health outcomes from alcohol,” she said.

Camille Bloomberg agrees that alcohol consumption is a common concern. “The pandemic has exposed how often and how much women drink alcohol. As a society, we cannot sweep it under the rug anymore. The uptick in alcohol use amongst women as a coping mechanism has been noticed by my colleagues and I for some time now, particularly since 2020.”

Women Are Drinking to Cope With the Pandemic

In March 2020, Americans flocked to liquor stores. According to Nielsen consumer market measurements, during the first week of lockdown, spirit sales were up 75%, wine by 66%, and beer up by 42%. Online sales of all types of alcohol were up by 243%.

Research has shown that it is women (not men) who are drinking more as a coping mechanism to the increased stress and anxiety since 2020. A study by the RAND Corporation found that during the pandemic, women increased by 41% heavy drinking days compared to pre-pandemic. “Seeing evidence of drinking as a coping mechanism to the pandemic specifically, along with the added grief people are experiencing, my concern is that the resulting duration of heavier alcohol consumption will continue,” Siegert stated. “This duration can increase chances of developing an issue with alcohol. Considering that women are more negatively affected by alcohol both physically and mentally, this is worrisome,” she said.

Alcohol is Harder on the Female Body

Women metabolize alcohol differently than men. This difference in physiology produces unequal outcomes that are worse for women. Alcohol affects women more quickly than men and at lower levels of consumption.

The main difference is that women metabolize alcohol slower than men and therefore their bodies are exposed to higher concentrations of alcohol for longer periods of time. Proportionally speaking, female bodies contain less water and more fat than men’s bodies. Since water dilutes alcohol and fat retains it, exposure increases for women. Additionally, women have less of an enzyme (alcohol dehydrogenase) that breaks alcohol down before it reaches the bloodstream. These factors make it so that at any point while drinking, women have a higher blood alcohol content (BAC). A higher BAC exposes the body to more damage.

Traditionally, it is the human liver that has been the focus of how alcohol can negatively affect health. Recent studies show that alcohol has a negative effect on other parts of the body, namely the heart and the brain. Heavy drinking also increases risks for hypertension, cancer, stroke, and alcohol-impaired accidents.

Alcohol Can Increase Symptoms of Depression

Women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety and depression. Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant that affects the workings and mood stabilization mechanisms of the central nervous system. Temporarily, it can help a person feel calmer, which can be very appealing. However, as a person’s blood alcohol content decreases and then returns to a normal level again, feelings of anxiety can increase because alcohol changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain.

When it comes to depression, alcohol can lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, both of which help to regulate mood. Lower levels of these hormones can increase feelings of depression. Stress hormones are temporarily ineffective with the consumption of alcohol. In total, alcohol’s multiple depressive effects on the brain and nervous system increase symptoms of depression.

Better Communications Can Lead to Improved Outcomes

Education and portrayal in the media needs to reflect the reality of the women’s health issue at hand. Publications need to speak directly to women and acknowledge the concerns that are their sources of stress and anxiety. “We need to bring this to the attention of girls and women so they can fully understand how alcohol affects their bodies and minds,” stated Camille Bloomberg. Beth Siegert agreed, “Yes, by getting the information out in mainstream media, in health education sources, at universities, and through company wellness programs, this knowledge can make it easier for girls and women to ask for help. Corporations and women’s groups are seeing this as vital information and are where I most often present on addiction awareness.”

Where to Start to Get Help

Talking to a medical professional is a smart first step. Often, a physician will assist a person from a medical standpoint while also referring to a therapist to discuss underlying issues. Recognizing that recovery from an addiction is a daily effort, many people seek out the help of a recovery coach to help clients map out how to live their new life free of substance use or addiction and as a source of judgment-free support.

About the Author – Gabriella Swartwood is a freelance writer that often writes about mental health, the mind-body connection and how we can live longer and more vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her family and pets.

Disclaimer: The information in the above article is not intended to replace the formal opinions of medical professionals

The views expressed herein this article, written by a guest contributor, do not necessarily represent those of the Red Hot Mamas organization. The content is for informational purposes and should not substitute the advice of your doctor.