Over the past two years, we’ve all endured the added stress that goes with surviving a pandemic and you wouldn’t be surprised if the stats showed people are drinking more alcohol to cope. But the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows its women who are more likely to turn to alcohol for comfort in these difficult times.
In Australia, about 14% of people have increased their use of alcohol over the past year. In this group 18% of women reported increased alcohol use in the previous month compared with only 10.8% of men.
Similar results were found when Turning Point carried out a COVID-19 mental health survey of 1,200 Australians in April of last year and found a significantly higher proportion of women had increased their alcohol intake: 31.8% of women compared to 22.5% of men.
There’s a growing number of middle-aged women who are drinking more than in previous years in Australia. A new Australian study published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal, 1 shows about 21 per cent of women between 45 and 60 are now drinking at “binge-drinking” levels. This is a substantial increase from the 13-14% of women in the same age group who were drinking at the same level in earlier years.
Why are women resorting to binge drinking more than men?
When we see this research, we have to ask the question – why are women turning towards alcohol more than men? The answer could lie in the disproportionate burden of stress women are facing as a result of COVID-19.
International data shows women have been more likely to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic. Australian data shows loneliness has been more of a problem for women (28%) than men (16%) during lockdown.
The extra stress for women is probably related to the fact they’re almost three times more likely than men to be looking after children full-time on their own. Because they are the full-time caregiver so often, they tend to forget about their own needs and concentrate on others – but this isn’t good for their mental health.
Women also tend to be the ones pacifying others in the family, and taking on their burdens.
With added stress from financial worries due to COVID, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think there could be a possible increase in family violence incidents. We don’t have the data on this yet but it’s possible this could be part of the increased stress for some women.
In addition, young female workers have been disproportionately affected by the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Women make up a majority of the casual workforce and this makes them more vulnerable at this time.
As many of us have been working from home more, this could be another factor pushing women to reach for a drink when it’s just so accessible. This can develop into binge drinking and a terrible addiction.
Reaching for a drink has become a coping mechanism for emotional stress
When you look at all the factors, it seems COVID-19 is having a different level of impact on women compared to men. This is likely to be behind their increased alcohol consumption and binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many women over the years drinking alcohol has become a more commonly accepted coping mechanism for stress. Surveys report that women now feel comfortable saying, “I just had a bad day. I needed to have a drink.” It starts with just a bit, but can grow into an ugly beast.
Studies have found more women drink alcohol to cope with difficult emotions or stressful circumstances compared to men, who are more likely to drink alcohol in a social setting or as a reward. The reduced access to social contacts and increasing isolation caused by lockdowns is certainly taking its toll on women, and controbuting to the escalation in binge drinking.
Women are naturally inclined to be social networkers and relationship nurturers. It’s just how a female brain is wired. When women feel isolated and socially disconnected, they tend to experience a lot of anxiety and stress. Now they don’t have the luxury of ‘shopping therapy’ at the markets or a shopping centre, and catching up with a friend like they used to. Or they may have to work from home to keep working at all. Their social world has been squeezed hard.
What does this increase in alcohol consumption do to a woman’s body?
Co-author of the Australian study, which found more women are increasing their alcohol consumption to ‘binge-drinking’ levels, Cassandra Wright, confirmed that alcohol abuse posed a greater risk to women than men.
“Women experience alcohol harms more quickly and at lower levels of consumption than men,” Dr Wright said. “We have to remember that alcohol use is associated with more than 200 diseases and conditions, so this does mean [that] more women [are] experiencing harms,” she added.
Drinking alcohol will strip your body of much-needed magnesium
When you drink more than one drink of alcohol a day, the alcohol will strip your body of magnesium (see study here), 2 put your hormones out of balance, disrupt your metabolism and can cause damage to your cardiovascular system and liver.
Those who’ve had children and are still caring for these children, often experienced more drain on their magnesium and estrogen levels during times of great stress such as during the Covid years. Low magnesium can lead to ’estrogen-dominance’, especially if a woman is also on estrogen medications or exposed to estrogen-mimicking chemicals (endocrine disruptors). This condition makes us feel very fragile, easily upset and not in control.
This in turn can cause fatigue, metabolic syndrome and excessive weight gain, severe menopause or pre-menopause issues (for mature women), stress sensitivity, irritability, period cramps, aches, pains, hot flushes, digestive disorders, bladder infections and sleep problems – to name but a few of the potential side effects.
Eventually, as we keep overloading our liver with increased waste products to clear, chronic alcohol abuse can lead to more debilitating diseases including cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, heart disease, immune disorders, or even cancer.
It’s clear we need some better strategies to cope with the stress in these difficult times. During crisis we need our brain and body to perform optimally more than ever, so that we can think clearly. You don’t need to put up with the brain fog!
It’s far better to implement some healthy lifestyle solutions rather than just numb the pain with alcohol, pretending all the problems will go away. This is an illusion. Not only will you wake up probably with a hum dinger of a migraine hangover after binging, but you will be in worse condition to actually solve your problems. We need to treat the causes of the symptoms, as well as the symptoms to get out of that trap.
Magnesium helps to calm down the nervous system quickly by dampening down the effects of adrenaline and cortisol, which are elevated during times of stress and in the sympathetic mode of ‘fight or flight’. When you get enough magnesium into you and your system feels more calm and relaxed, you get more focussed and able to think clearly. Your body also gets to rest and recover better. Healing depends on getting enough magnesium.
In fact, if you’ve burnt the candle at both ends and overdone the alcohol consumption, this severely depletes magnesium and puts you at much higher risk of worsening health. . Alcohol also dehydrates the brain and makes us feel lousy after the initial ‘high’. This kind of dehydration can easily become a depression.
Alcohol just gives you a short-term respite from the stress or anxiety, but long-term terrible repercussions. However, magnesium can not only make you feel relaxed to escape the stress, but at the same time it is helping your body to detox, sleep more restfully and re-build cells for healing and recovery. It also helps you get more joy out of life because your body and mind start to feel so much better.
Keeping your head cool, calm and collected is the key to remain in control. If you neglect your own needs and let yourself go, you can’t be any help to others. Via self-care we can support our loved ones much better.
How can magnesium help?
- Magnesium is vital for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, as it is the key ingredient for mitochondria to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – our electrical energy currency. If you want to sleep better and get more energy, make sure you are getting plenty of magnesium.
- If you’ve been drinking alcohol as part of your daily routine for some time and then you stop, most people experience something called Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). Studies have shown AWS coincides with low levels of magnesium in the blood. The AWS symptoms include sleeplessness, tremors, anxiety, headache, excessive sweating and reduced appetite. Many AWS treatment protocols now recommend magnesium supplementation to help with these symptoms. Applying magnesium to your skin is the fastest and most efficient way to absorb large amounts if you need a big top-up (which is necessary to counteract the effects of excessive alcohol). See more in this study here. 3
- Major depression is a mood disorder which can have serious repercussions. Antidepressant drugs are not always effective and some have been accused of causing an increased number of suicides particularly in young people. Research has shown that magnesium deficiency is well known to produce conditions such as depression, and that magnesium supplementation is a very effective depression treatment without debilitating side effects. We don’t necessarily get enough magnesium in our food and water anymore, and oral magnesium supplements are hard to digest and absorb. However, magnesium via skin is both safe and effective, and works fast to supply our cells with vital magnesium without having to digest anything. See more in this study here. 4 It’s a good idea to incorporate magnesium skincare into your daily healthy lifestyle routine to get the extra magnesium needed to bounce back from stress and become more resilient. It just feels sooooo good!
SUMMARY OF STRESS-BUSTING STRATEGIES
- Regular moderate exercise: walking, swimming, take an exercise class, get on the treadmill – or whatever you prefer that’s ‘fun’. Do it for 20-30 minutes daily. Fill those lungs with fresh air and get that circulation moving!
- Drink plenty of filtered and mineralised water for good hydration.
- If you spend most of your time inside an office, take regular rest breaks during your work day: a morning break, lunch time break and afternoon break, so that you’re not in front of a screen all day long.
- Get out in the sunshine when the UV ratings are relatively low. Limit the time to suit your skin type in a sensible way. Direct sun exposure on the skin, plus cholesterol fat (or plant fats) and magnesium help the body to make valuable vitamin D to keep your immune system strong. If you apply Elektra Magnesium Cream before and after sunbathing it helps keep hydration level up so that the skin can recover better. It also promotes healthy tanning (but be careful because it’s not a full sunblock). Don’t stress your skin with lobster-red exposures!
- Make sure you get deep restful sleep at night – at least 7-8 hours.
- Keep your home clean from dust and mould. Use some dehumidifiers, certain plants and air purifiers if you’re in a humid area. This way, the air you’re breathing in at home will be much cleaner and fresher.
- Practice some meditation, yoga, tai chi, or simply take some time out to be quiet and restful in the garden at least once a day, away from any distractions and screens.
- Do some deep breathing exercises each day and they will help you reduce your anxiety and improve your lung function. You can start with 5 minutes a day and go from there. Take a look at these.
- Do some Cold-Water Therapy such as the Wim Hof method. This will really calm down your nervous system and get your immune system pumping! This type of training helps build resilience.
- Eat a diet of mostly fresh, organic food because this way you’ll be avoiding additives and reducing your pesticide load. Also, avoid processed sugars, as sugar steals your magnesium. You need 38 molecules of magnesium to metabolise one unit of sucrose. The more sugar you eat, the more magnesium it robs, and the more acidic cells become.
- Keep your gut microbiome and digestive system healthy.
- Limit alcoholic beverage to once on a weekend as a treat – or give it away altogether!
- Get plenty of hugs and cuddles from your loved ones so your body can get a bunch of revitalising and healing OXYTOCIN – the love hormone.
- Enjoy daily magnesium skin care using transdermal magnesium, have a relaxing magnesium massage at least once a week, and take extra supplements including Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc for extra immune system support. 5 6
By Sandy Sanderson © 2022
Footnote: Some of the data used in this article was originally published in The Conversation and co-authored by Dr Caroline Gurvich and Professor Jayashri Kulkarn from Monash University.
(1) Miller, M.; Mojica-Perez, Y.; Livingston, M.; Kuntsche, E.; Wright, C. J. C.; Kuntsche, S. The Who and What of Women’s Drinking: Examining Risky Drinking and Associated Socio-Demographic Factors among Women Aged 40–65 Years in Australia. Drug and Alcohol Review n/a (n/a). https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.13428.
(2) Rivlin, R. S. Magnesium Deficiency and Alcohol Intake: Mechanisms, Clinical Significance and Possible Relation to Cancer Development (a Review). J Am Coll Nutr 1994, 13 (5), 416–423. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.1994.10718430.
(3) Magnesium for the prevention or treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome in adults https://www.cochrane.org/CD008358/ADDICTN_magnesium-for-the-prevention-or-treatment-of-alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome-in-adults (accessed 2022 -02 -11). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD008358.pub2.
(4) Eby, G. A.; Eby, K. L. Rapid Recovery from Major Depression Using Magnesium Treatment. Med Hypotheses 2006, 67 (2), 362–370. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2006.01.047.
(5) DiNicolantonio, J. J.; O’Keefe, J. H. Magnesium and Vitamin D Deficiency as a Potential Cause of Immune Dysfunction, Cytokine Storm and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation in Covid-19 Patients. Mo Med 2021, 118 (1), 68–73.
(6) Trapani, V.; Rosanoff, A.; Baniasadi, S.; Barbagallo, M.; Castiglioni, S.; Guerrero-Romero, F.; Iotti, S.; Mazur, A.; Micke, O.; Pourdowlat, G.; Scarpati, G.; Wolf, F. I.; Maier, J. A. The Relevance of Magnesium Homeostasis in COVID-19. Eur J Nutr 2021, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-021-02704-y.