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Study shows heavy drinking is up during the pandemic, especially by women

The coronavirus pandemic is creating stress for all of us, but research shows women may be reaching for the cocktails too much, to cope.

NORFOLK, Va. — The RAND Corporation study compared adults' drinking habits from the Spring of 2019 to the Spring of 2020. It found heavy drinking by women is up 41 percent, and respondents also say they've experienced more adverse impacts as a result of their drinking.

"Not really having many outlets, or limited outlets on top of death, on top of the traumas of the pandemic, even the racial experiences happening in the world now... there's really nowhere to go," said Sharde' O'Rourke, a licensed professional counselor with "The Mahogany Projek."

O'Rourke said the COVID-19 pandemic has created a whirlwind for all of us. The social isolation and a change in finances can be triggering and the burden can feel even greater for women, many of whom are taking on a large part of the household responsibility.

O'Rourke explained the pressure: "Making sure distance learning is happening, making sure kids are safe, people are fed, all of the responsibilities around the house are taken care of." 

So that leaves people looking for ways to cope and for some, that means hitting the bottle hard. 

"People are doing what they know how to do to cope," O'Rourke said. "And if someone was already struggling with addiction in any way,  this just statistically increased their chances by ten-fold." 

Isolation and lack of a normal routine all play a role, especially if you've struggled with alcohol abuse in the past. 

"Alcohol is socialized to be OK until it's not OK, but most times between 'it's OK' and 'not OK," the limits haven't been identified." 

O'Rourke said that when those limits aren't identified, it can be too late. But that's where counseling can help, in-person or virtual.

"Counseling really is about having a conversation. It's not about people trying to make you be something you are not or judging you based on whatever the issue is you bring forth," said O'Rourke.

Support groups are still happening during the pandemic with many now moved online so that may create more choices. O'Rourke said you can also look for a sponsor to help you in your journey.

"Sponsors don't have to be directly connected to an AA or NA. This is just someone who is a supporter of you and your journey." 

And if insurance is an issue, O'Rourke said to try looking for someone who offers a sliding fee scale, check Medicaid and community service boards.

Alcohol use can have lingering effects on your health, including heart disease and cancer. It can weaken your immune system, impact your sleep, and lead to depression and anxiety. Experts say look for healthier alternatives such as meditation, yoga, or getting out for a walk.

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