Studies Document Rising Rates of Binge Drinking, Depression Among Women During Pandemic

Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

It’s no secret that the global coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities across the United States and around the world. From grief to mental health to binge drinking, many people have struggled during these trying times.

According to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Dashboard, as of Nov. 30, 2020, 64 million people have contracted this disease, and more than 1.4 million people have died from it. The United States alone has experienced more than 13 million COVID-19 cases and more than 260,000 deaths.

In addition to grief and fear experienced by loved ones of those with COVID-19, the effects of this ongoing public health crisis include personal health worries, academic difficulties, job loss and unemployment, financial problems, isolation from friends and family members, and increasing rates of anxiety and depression.

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A study published Sept. 29, 2020, on the JAMA Open Network website revealed another negative outcome of the pandemic: rising rates of alcohol use among adults, with significant increases in binge drinking among adult women.

Quantifying the Problem

The JAMA study was led by Michael S. Pollard of the RAND Corporation, with funding provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The study involved 1,540 U.S. adults age 30 and older, including 883 women. The findings that pertained to alcohol use by women include:

  • Frequency of alcohol consumption per month by women increased by 17% between 2019 and 2020.
  • About 20% of women consumed alcohol at least one more day per month in 2020 than they did in 2019.
  • Binge drinking (which the study defined as four or more drinks within a few hours) was 41% higher in 2020 than during a similar time frame in 2019.

The data that was collected during the JAMA study appears to be consistent with multiple reports from the early months of the pandemic about increased alcohol sales in the United States.

Understanding the Causes & Effects of Binge Drinking

Woman struggling with binge drinking during quarantineAdverse life experiences and elevated stress levels have long been identified as potential causes of binge drinking. Experts also understand that certain mental health concerns, such as anxiety disorders and depressive disorders, can increase women’s risk of using and becoming addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

Unfortunately, stress, depression, and other possible causes of alcohol use and alcohol addiction are becoming more common during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, a study that was published Sept. 2, 2020, on the JAMA Open Network website noted that the prevalence of depression among U.S. adults has increased by more than 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, led by Catherine K. Ettman of Boston University School of Public Health, found that the rate of depression among adult women increased from 10.1% to 33.3%.

Identifying Solutions to Binge Drinking

Increased alcohol use among women is definitely a cause for concern. When this increase is accompanied by rising rates of depression or other mental health disorders, the problem’s potential severity may increase exponentially.

Thankfully, even during a pandemic, women who are struggling with substance use disorders and other behavioral health concerns can still access the support services and professional treatment options that can help them end their substance use and achieve improved health.

In an April 2020 blog post, NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D., noted that “social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.” Dr. Koob advised people to explore the variety of treatment and support options that offer help for alcohol use disorder without putting participants at increased risk for coronavirus exposure.


[1] Ettman, C.K.; Abdalla, S.M.; Cohen, G.H.; Sampson, L.; Vivier, P.M.; and Galea, S. Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2019686. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19686

[2] Koob, George F. Director’s Blog: Alcohol poses different challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[3] Pollard, M.S.; Tucker, J.S.; and Green, H.D. Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942

[4]World Health Organization Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. (n.d.). Retrieved from Nov. 30, 2020.

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, which is located in Lemont, Illinois, provides comprehensive, individualized treatment for adult women age 18 and older and adolescent girls ages 12-17 who have been struggling with eating disorders, substance use disorders, and mental health concerns. Depending on age and need, a person’s age-appropriate care at Timberline Knolls may include residential programming, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient services.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on December 7, 2020
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 7, 2020
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.