What you need to know:
- The findings also suggest that between 2019 and 2020, women increased their heavy drinking days by 41 per cent.
- Covid-19 has forced millions of women across the globe to stay indoors for lengthy periods, while many others are constantly worried about their health, and job security.
For nearly a century, women have been closing the gender gap in alcohol consumption, binge drinking and alcohol use disorder. And during the Covid-19 pandemic, their alcohol drinking rates seem to have risen significantly. An analysis of several dozen studies released this year by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that what was previously perceived to be a 3:1 ratio for risky drinking habits for men to women has reduced to 1:1 globally.
The findings also suggest that between 2019 and 2020, women increased their heavy drinking days by 41 per cent. Covid-19 has forced millions of women across the globe to stay indoors for lengthy periods, while many others are constantly worried about their health, and job security.
Research done in May 2021 by the World Health Organisation indicates that alcohol use can increase during self-isolation. This limited contact with others, combined with alcohol abuse, may increase the risk of suicide. The findings show that alcohol is closely associated with violence, and that Covid-19 could amplify the situation.
Caroline Wanjiru Maina, 25, is a single mother of two boys, and she admits to feeling more stressed during this pandemic period.
“As we all know, bars have reopened and lockdown restrictions have been eased in most parts of the country. This a wonderful development, especially considering the fact that we have been deprived of social connections, at least in the physical sense, with our friends and families for a long time. Therefore, one can easily be tempted to over indulge when they venture into public places.
“I earn a living by washing clothes for clients, and Covid-19 has made life harder than ever before. It got to a point when I did not know what to do. I have been drinking to escape the daily frustrations, especially after the pandemic significantly reduced my profits.
“Before, I could comfortably support my family, but the restrictions made things difficult. My clients were scared of allowing me into their houses for fear that I would put them at risk. Additionally, many people now work from home so they choose to do their own laundry. Now, I make an average of Sh250 a day. I use Sh150 for my upkeep and the rest to buy liquor.
“Drinking keeps me from worrying too much about the future, and is affordable. It makes me feel braver, stronger, and in control. It also makes me forget my troubles, including my joblessness and this works well for me because I don’t want to think too much,” she says.
According to a national mental health crisis survey conducted by American Psychological Association in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has been named as a significant cause of stress in most adults. Nearly 19 per cent of respondents said that their mental health is worse than it was before. This is because many have lost their jobs, which causes them to look for ways of coping with their predicaments. Although some have embraced positive mechanisms of surviving during the pandemic, a good number are taking alcohol to cope with the uncertainty and anxieties surrounding it.
Mary Njeri, is a single lady from Nairobi who works in a real estate firm as a sales person. Having to work from home, she says, encouraged her to drink more.
“Having a few drinks at home in the evening after work has been my way of relaxing for years, but when the pandemic started, I had a lot more free time. Working from home has been stressful for me. Because of the isolation from family and friends due to lockdown restrictions, I found myself fighting negative thoughts. To be honest, I am still adjusting to the transition of working remotely, and it is quite a challenge maintaining optimum performance with this new working style.
“Additionally, I can no longer interact with my colleagues or even meet friends for coffee like before. I am stressed, bored and worried about my job, and alcohol helps alleviate the anxiety. I have less work to handle and I am always tempted to grab a drink during the day. I just wish things can go back to normal. When you are physically present in the office, it is easier to tell if your colleague has been drinking.
“It will show in their weird vision, smell, or slurred speech. This keeps people like me on track. Now, with no one to check on me, I am free to do as I please so I drink vodka very often. It helps me see things from a different perspective,” she says.
Mary Nyokabi, 38, lost a soul mate to Covid-19. She is a banker.
“In two months, I will be celebrating the anniversary of my husband’s death, a loss that brought me and my two little children great grief. His death affected me so much, and moving on has been hard. I often feel lonely, and battle feelings of anger and bitterness as I don’t understand why God would not heal my husband. When I remember how he enjoyed roughhousing with his children and relaxing in the basement, where he had set up a home theatre and basketball hoop, I get sick with grief. He showered his nine-year-old daughter, Mary, with love, and hoped to share his love of basketball with his son, John, who is now aged three.”
Mary’s husband spent several days on a ventilator and died after a week, aged 36.
“I dreaded telling my daughter that her favorite person would never ever come home, and my son that his role model was no more. When I eventually broke the news, my daughter sobbed bitterly. My son could not fully comprehend the situation but kept asking where his dad was and why he wasn’t home, playing with him. These questions tortured me.
“I also wondered where he might have picked the infection and why no one else in the family got affected. I still feel angry, and I have been looking for better ways to cope. Raising children as a single mother is very tough, and this causes me to drink more, especially hard liquor. My friends are trying all they can to help me accept my new life as a widow, but it is hard.
“I feel safe drinking at home since nobody is looking to see if I have had one too many, so I find myself drinking more than I normally would at a bar or restaurant. Covid-19 restrictions have also increased my loneliness and mood swings. I really needed people by my side at this time. I have been experiencing anxiety and depression, and I drink more to feel better,” she reveals.
Joan Wanjiku’s biggest challenge has been the balance between work and family life. She is 25, and lives in Nairobi.
“I am pregnant, and a mother of two children, both aged below six. Recently, I have been so stressed and I remember once threatening my husband that I would move out of our home. I am now 32 weeks pregnant, and house chores are weighing me down. Since the pandemic struck, my husband, who works for a company that produces protective equipment, joined me in working from home. We took our children out of daycare for fear that they could contract the virus. Working at home with the children around has been very frustrating. We had to split household chores equally with my partner, but he is always attending zoom meetings with his clients, so I have to clean the house, cook, and look after the kids. My husband can only help occasionally as his job is more demanding.
“I feel stressed because I would have wanted to get so much more done, such as buying baby clothes, before I deliver. Because of these anxieties, I have been drinking more, something that attracts fierce criticism from my husband. I don’t think he truly understand my fears, and how bothersome the house chores are to me. I wish this pandemic would end and allow us to take our kids back to day care.”
The same is true for 30-year-old Janet Ngoiri, a mother of two from Nakuru. She recently lost her job, and this has driven her straight to the bottle.
“I used to live a happy life. I supported my husband in buying household stuff every month and still had some money left to save. When our hotel was temporarily closed due to the pandemic, we were asked to stay home on paid leave for two months. But afterwards, our contracts were terminated because the restaurant was closed.
“Staying at home and waiting for my husband to provide for me has been difficult. I have tried looking for jobs to no avail. I sometimes have to do other people’s laundry. Money has become a common cause of conflict in our marriage since we always worry about how to make ends meet. This has affected me so I have been drinking more,” she says.
Dr Katheline Njoroge, a psychiatric mental health nurse, advises women who are drinking more during this period to seek professional help since over time, excessive alcohol consumption can damage both the liver and brain.
“Since the onset of Covid-19, the mental health crisis has worsened due to the coinciding social-economic factors. It is no doubt therefore that there has been an increase in antisocial personality disorders leading to higher rates of substance and alcohol abuse.
“The levels of anxiety and depressive disorders among women is on the rise, exacerbated by increased cases of gender based and domestic violence. As a result, many have turned to alcohol to numb the negative feelings. There is so much uncertainty about the future, difficulty in adapting to work-from -home strategies, inability to attend weddings and other social events, and limited time to mourn loved ones, especially those who succumb to the virus. It is therefore important for people to embrace healthy coping mechanisms such as leaning on friends and family for support, revamping their personal brands and embracing innovative ideas to earn a living,” she says.
Dr Susan Gitau, a counselling psychologist, adds that it is high time the world embraces change and works hard to fight depression. Like Dr Katherine, she advises closet drinkers to seek professional help to deal with their situation.
“Social distancing is hard, but that does not mean you have to be lonely. Think up ways to stay connected to the people in your life, from sharing pictures, video chats, to online games. Technology can help us feel less lonely during this difficult season. It is key to make time to unwind and remind yourself that the negative feelings will fade. Try to eat healthy, well balanced meals, and purpose to stay informed about the pandemic. Avoid comparing yourself to others, and if the stress affects key activities of your daily life, it is important to talk to a counsellor”, she adds.