More than a year into the pandemic, the research is in: COVID-19 has taken a toll on women’s health, including increased levels of risky drinking. According to a study in JAMA Network Open, the number of days when women drank heavily – having four or more drinks in a couple of hours – increased by 41 percent compared to a year ago. Another study, by the American Psychological Association, found that since the pandemic began, nearly 30 percent of mothers reported drinking more because of stress, and were more likely than fathers (39 percent compared to 25 percent) to say their mental health has gotten worse.
As National Women's Health Week (May 9-15) kicks off this Mother's Day, the need for women to take care of their health has grown in urgency. Women's increased alcohol use to cope with the pandemic may lead to drinking problems and other health issues, including cancer, heart damage, brain damage, and liver disease. Women of reproductive age also risk prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Social workers can help by making alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) part of routine care. Alcohol SBI is a proven strategy for reducing risky drinking, and electronic SBI (e-SBI) can be used if seeing clients in person is not possible. For an overview of best practices, including validated screening tools for women of all ages, please see NASW’s recent Practice Perspectives on alcohol screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment.
NASW, the NASW Foundation, and The University of Texas at Austin have partnered with leading medical organizations within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy. This national public health initiative encourages health professionals to screen women for risky alcohol use and follow up as appropriate.
Visit NASW’s Behavioral Health webpage for professional development resources. Additional clinical resources are available through our Collaborative partners:
By Diana Ling, MA, Outreach Program Coordinator; and Leslie Sirrianni, LCSW, Training Coordinator; Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin