Trauma and Alcohol Use among Women

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Where does the root of drinking stem from?

This is a question that leads to many answers. One thing research tells us, is that women with alcohol use disorders may use drinking as a way to cope with unresolved trauma. Emotional trauma and psychological trauma result from extremely stressful events. Left unresolved, trauma can leave women with feelings of isolation and overwhelming anxieties. These feelings can have long-lasting effects which can be severe and carry into adulthood. There are a number of types of trauma, though this post will just touch on a few [1].


Women who are exposed to interpersonal traumatic events have a greater chance of alcohol-related consequences. Similarly, those who meet the conditions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to engage in heavy episodes of drinking. Studies show that women may use alcohol to cope with psychological distress and negative affect. These women have expressed symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder [2]. Though women may use them to cope with feelings of distress, it is important to note that alcohol consumption or the use of other substances can increase the symptoms of depression and anxiety and actually worsen trauma symptoms [1].

Other sources of trauma that may increase alcohol use include, physical and emotional neglect, physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse and childhood trauma. More often than men, women tend to self-medicate or self-soothe with alcohol as a way to alleviate or escape memories and thoughts that are upsetting [3].

Will the COVID-19 Pandemic lead to more unresolved trauma and more drinking?

Source: Photo (c) kieferpix – Getty Images

Certainly we will have to wait for the data to come in before we can assess the actual results of how the pandemic has hurt those with alcohol use disorders. But with what we know about traumatic events we can make some predictions and recommendations. We know alcohol use among women is increasing. We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our economy and in some ways led us into a recession. Women are facing numerous burdens. During a time of uncertainty, women may be worried about employment or unemployment, housing, family safety and security, childcare, bills, food, finances, and a number of other stressors. With no one to talk to about how they are feeling, women who drink are at an increased risk of coping in unhealthy ways thus increasing their stress, anxiety, depression [4].

How do we help women cope without the alcohol?


It is important to acknowledge the burden and level of stress women are facing. While this pandemic may not be traumatic for some, others have experienced life-changing stressors, and we are still in the midst of it. It is important to share and talk about our experiences candidly. That may be with trusted family and friends, or with licensed professionals. During this time, many organizations are offering free and low cost virtual treatment options, there are online support groups and more. It is just a matter of a google search [4,5].

Without checking in with ourselves and the women in our lives, we may not resolve our traumas and begin the healing process. This can be done without alcohol. After all, when the intoxication from several glasses of wine wears off, the trauma is still there. It is time to find a permanent solution!





  2. Kaysen, D., Dillworth, T. M., Simpson, T., Waldrop, A., Larimer, M. E., & Resick, P. A. (2007). Domestic violence and alcohol use: Trauma-related symptoms and motives for drinking. Addictive behaviors32(6), 1272-1283.
  3. Frohe, T., Leeman, R. F., Cheong, J., Belton, D. A., & Patock-Peckham, J. A. (2020). Novel Associations Among Trauma, Mindfulness, and Impaired Control Over Alcohol Use. Mindfulness, 11(3), 606-614.

Women, Alcohol & COVID-19

Increased alcohol sales in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

By March 22nd, 2020, just one week after many organizations and businesses started preparing for social distancing measures, there was a 55% increase in alcohol sales in the United States. Compared to this week last year in 2019, the market saw a:

-75% increase in the sales of hard liquors such as tequila and gin

-66% increase in the sale of wine

-42% increase in the sale of beer

Online sales had far higher numbers than in-store sales, with projections for even higher numbers as consumers rushed to stockpile their homes before proposed stay-at-home mandates went into effect [1].

New data projects that approximately 30% of consumers who purchased alcohol online during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to do so. Convenience could be the leading reason for this. Not only have online sales spiked (no pun intended), but the average order size has increased by 22%. This tells us that consumers are drinking more than before.

What does increased alcohol sales mean for women’s health and safety?

Let’s start with asking the question, who is more likely to use alcohol to cope? Well that would be women, according to Dr. Parker Jones, of the 7 Domains of Women’s Health, women are facing a tremendous amount of stress during this time. There is fear and uncertainty in many avenues. Stressors that arise during this time may be attributed to loss/uncertainty of unemployment, having to home school children, caring for sick family members, inability to pay bills, social isolation from other family members and friends, being an essential worker, fear of contracting COVID-19…etc. While these stressors can affect men and women alike, women are more likely to seek relief and use alcohol to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety [2].

Women with full-time jobs, spouses and children are spending about 71 hours per week on child-care, household duties and chores, and elder care, compared to men who are spending about 51 hours per week on the same duties. To be honest, it’s no wonder than women are filling their wine glasses a bit more often during this time [3].

WHO reported that alcohol leads to both short-term and long-term effects on your body’s organs. Short-term alcohol consumption may alter the body’s normal health function, including sleep patterns and REM sleep cycles. A lack of sleep can lead to unsafe health behaviors such as, increased stress and anxiety, recklessness, more drinking, higher tensions in the home, and a higher chance of ‘snapping’ due to irritability.

CDC defines heavy drinking for women as eight or more drinks per week. Long-term heavy alcohol consumption and constant binge drinking can lead to a reduced number of white blood cells. These blood cells help fight viruses and infections, their decrease leads to a weaker immune system lowering the body’s ability to fight infectious diseases. More severely, heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to an increased risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a symptom of COVID-19 [4]. One thing is for certain, alcohol will not protect from COVID-19 [5]

What is a better way for women to cope during these times?

Alcohol is not at all a necessary part of the diet. Can one indulge every once in a while? Sure- A consenting adult over the age of 21 is allowed to drink, but women should ask themselves why they are drinking. If the answer is along the lines of boredom, stress, or to cope then we need to find a healthy alternative. One could try:

  • A physical workout (indoors of course, unless you are able to socially distance yourself outside!)
  • Practicing yoga or indulge in a solo dance party
  • Reading a good book you haven’t had time to get to
  • Journaling and practicing mindfulness
  • Home improvement ideas that are easy to do yourself
  • Cooking a new dish you’ve seen on social media
  • Calling a friend or family member
  • Learn something new about a topic you know nothing about, but find interesting
  • Deleting old pictures and apps from your phone to create space (a personal favorite)

Most important during this time is for all women to remain healthy and safe!