The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is putting a strain on families. Parents have extended childcare responsibilities during these times, specially moms. This has led to a rise in use of alcohol to cope leading to increased alcohol harm in women and children. Millions of children are silently suffering due to alcohol problems in their homes.

Parents play a pivotal role in the lives of children. However, raising children during a pandemic can be especially challenging. These challenges are compounded by Big Alcohol’s marketing campaign targeting parents and specially moms, exploiting their heightened stress, anxiety, and pressures to push alcohol as a coping tool during these trying times.

A survey by a non-profit research institute found that women with children younger than fives years of age in the United States increased their alcohol consumption by 323% during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Another study looked into rising binge alcohol use in women between 45 and 60 years of age in Australia and found several reasons for why women are consuming more alcohol during the pandemic.

1. Use of alcohol for coping

Studies show that women are more likely to use alcohol to cope with negative affect and stress than men. Diagnosed depression and anxiety have increased among Australian women from 13% in 2009 to 19% in 2019. This helps to explain the observed increase in alcohol use.

During the COVID-19 pandemic childcare responsibilities of parents have increased and mothers are bearing the biggest responsibility. Switching children to online learning, overseeing their education, taking care of children for the whole day in addition to the other responsibilities at home and at work is very stressful for moms.

Qualitative research with middle-aged women demonstrates that using alcohol provides a ‘time-out’ from work and childcare responsibilities.

This risk of using alcohol to cope among women can be reduced by providing women with alternative ways to experience pleasure and reward and cope with the stressors arising due to increased workforce participation and changing gender roles.

2. Big Alcohol targets women

The proliferation of alcoholic beverages designed to target women and the increase in marketing of these products could further help explain the increase in women’s – especially mothers’ – alcohol use.

Marketing of alcohol products aimed at women capitalises on the associations between women’s alcohol use, perceived pleasure and autonomy and thus may be working to reinforce and perpetuate these behaviours and norms.

Movendi International has previously reported on tactics the alcohol industry uses to appeal to women:

The alcohol industry continues to target women, despite the very specific harms their products and practices cause to women. For instance, women can develop an alcohol use disorder or addiction with smaller amounts and in shorter time compared to men. Another example is the high risk of breast cancer due alcohol.

Stronger regulation of alcohol marketing is required, including a shift away from the industry-led, voluntary marketing codes such as the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code in Australia, to a government mandated scheme with independent oversight.

Seen with the eyes of children: Growing up with parental alcohol problems

Millions of silently suffering children are the first hurt and the last helped when alcohol problems enter their homes,” said Sis Wenger, CEO/ President, National Association for Children of Alcoholics, USA, as per Movendi International.

Sis Wenger, CEO/ President, National Association for Children of Alcoholics, USA

Alcohol harms children and young people disproportionately. Children suffer from neglect, maltreatment, poor mental and physical health, academic difficulties and violence perpetrated by adults, often parents, due to alcohol.

Evidence shows that younger age increased the risk to experience alcohol harm due someone else’s alcohol consumption.

The pervasive alcohol norm in societies hurts children. According to research published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, children as young as 4 to 8 years become increasingly knowledgeable about alcohol norms in specific situations. This knowledge may put them at risk for early alcohol initiation and frequent alcohol use later in life.

Even what is considered lower levels of alcohol use by parents can harm children. Kids may be more likely to develop depression and anxiety when their parents are regular alcohol users, even when neither parent consumes enough to be considered having an alcohol use disorder.

There are eight elements – protective factors – in homes that help children thrive and have a better chance to develop their full potential:

  1. Having their basic needs covered,
  2. Engaging in family rituals, such as birthdays,
  3. Experiencing caring adults,
  4. Being provided regular eating and bedtime routines, as well as rules and boundaries,
  5. Experiencing kind and gentle communication,
  6. Being a part of thriving social connectedness and warm relationships,
  7. Being supported to value regular school attendance, and
  8. Enjoying their childhood, play, have fun and be carefree.

Too many children grow up in homes affected by parental alcohol problems where many or even all of the elements of an enabling home are jeopardized. Millions of children are growing up in households with alcohol problems and for them home is the most dangerous place.


Record Eagle: “Opinion: Alcohol consumption spikes among mothers of young children”

Drug and Alcohol Review: “Examining the Patterns, Sociodemographic, and Contextual Factors of Alcohol Use in Middle-Aged Women