ISU professor examines increased use of alcohol by women

AMES — An Iowa State University Sociology professor finds a pandemic-related link between the increase in drinking among women.

Susan Stewart starting looking at the increase in alcohol use among women before the COVID outbreak, and then refocused to look at the pandemic impact. “The pandemic took a particularly heavy toll on women who were already facing a great deal of stress, especially balancing work and home and children, women are still the main caretakers of kids. And for, I don’t know, several decades, their alcohol use has increased. And men’s has to but women’s has increased pretty dramatically,” Stewart says.

She details her findings in her book “On the Rocks: Straight talk about women and drinking.” Stewart says drinking — especially for white and college-educated women – has increased more to cope with stress, move up at work, feel confident and to have fun or be perceived as having fun. Stewart says not all the perceptions about women drinking have changed.

“The women I spoke with for my book, they still identified a lot of areas of stigma having to do with women and drinking,”Stewart says. “For example, the kinds of alcohol that they are see themselves allowed to consume, meaning like wine and girly drinks, as opposed to like taking a shot of whiskey.”

Stewart says women still seem to be watched for the circumstances and who they are with and how many drinks they have. “Whereas men, I have found just can drink, they’re not challenged on that behavior, it’s just much more acceptable,” according to Stewart. “For women, you look at women who are drinking you might think, well, she’s out for fun or she’s had a stressful day, not just drinking, because it’s pleasurable.”

Stewart says alcohol appears to be the choice for a stress reducer because it is easiest to use. “The issue for a lot of women — especially busy women with children — is that alcohol is widely available. It doesn’t take very much time. You know, you can have a glass of wine at home you don’t have to leave the house to go out to the gym or for run something like that,” Stewart says. Stewart says death certificate data from 1999 to 2016 show alcohol-related mortalities shot up 120% among non-Hispanic white women aged 25 to 64, followed by 72% among American Indians/Alaskan Natives and 39 percent among Hispanic women. African American women experienced a 19% decline in deaths.