TELUS Health Care Column- The truth about alcohol and women

The truth about alcohol and women.

By Dr. Kathee Andrews, MD, MCFP, NCMP, Physician, TELUS Health Care Centres

 

As we continue to understand the enormous physical, economic and emotional outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re learning more about the increased use of alcohol as a coping mechanism.

 

Studies show that women in particular have increased their consumption of alcohol by up to 50 per cent.[1],[2]

 

For many women, this may look like having a single glass of wine on most nights, or drinking more heavily just once weekly. But women have a lower threshold for safe consumption of alcohol than men: Canadian guidelines recommend consuming a maximum of 10, and ideally less than seven, drinks per week for women.[3]

The long-term effects are wide-reaching.

 

Several cancers such as colon, liver, esophageal, mouth and certain types of breast are associated with increased alcohol consumption.[4] There is also an increased risk of liver failure, heart disease, osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms in women who over-consume alcohol.[5],[6]

 

Alcohol consumption is often an indicator of mental health.

 

Women are facing higher levels of anxiety and loneliness than men during the COVID-19 pandemic,[7] and many of the women I see in practice are reaching for alcohol to self-medicate for anxiety, sleep disorders and for depressed mood.

 

Paradoxically, alcohol is a depressant that actually lowers mood and causes more sleep interruption. The vicious cycle of anxiety, low mood and poor sleep — followed by alcohol consumption — is the current pattern for many.

 

How can we help break the cycle?

 

  • Try to limit alcohol consumption to weekends, or at least initially skipping a few days mid-week.
  • Make a rule to never drink alone.

 

  • Keep a schedule every day, even if work does not require one or if you are not working.
  • Exercise every day.

 

  • Go outside everyday.
  • Try some quiet relaxation that takes you offline, like mediation, reading, painting or listening to music.

 

It’s important that you do not delay your healthcare during the pandemic, and that you get a full picture of the current state of your health and wellness.

 

[1] Pollard MS et al. 2020. “Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US.” JAMA Network Open.

[2] Jacob L et al. 2020. “Alcohol use and mental health during COVID-19 lockdown: A cross-sectional study in a sample of UK adults.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

[3] Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. 2018. “Canada’s Low-risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.” Camh.ca

[4] Canadian Cancer Society. “Some sobering facts about alcohol and cancer risk.” Cancer.ca. Accessed in 2021.

[5] Osteoporosis Canada. “How to Minimize the Harmful Effects.” Osteoporosis.ca. Accessed in 2021.

[6] The North American Menopause Society. “Drink to Your Health at Menopause, or Not?” Menopause.org. Accessed in 2021.

[7] Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 2020. “COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting mental health of women and people with children.” Camh.ca

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