Rethinking the wine-to-unwind culture amid the pandemic

With alcohol sales and consumption way up amid the pandemic, medical professionals and alcohol-free advocates are recommending rethinking drinking and the wine to unwind culture. The movement asks women in particular to push back on pandemic drinking for increased happiness and health. Melanie Zettler reports.

Pandemic Drinking

Throughout her life, Alisa Arbuckle had always exercised, had a healthy diet and didn’t smoke, but during Ontario’s first COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020, she noticed a habit was forming.

“Everyday, happy hour came a little earlier. I got to the point where I looked at my watch and I’m like, ‘Oh it’s 2:30 p.m. do you think it’s too early?’ … and two becomes three and three becomes four. Finally, you wake up the next morning and you don’t feel like yourself,” said Arbuckle.

Mommy-drinking memes and videos became well-shared throughout the pandemic. Supporting the idea of drinking to take the edge off as a form of self care or a way to cope.

“The idea that we’ve normalized this highly addictive substance in our world [where we] raise our children — I just had a full stop,” said Arbuckle.

Increase in Abuse

Addictions physician and co-director of the substance-use service at Women’s College Hospital, Dr. Jennifer Wyman, told Global News she is seeing concerning increases in the amount of substance use and the risks associated with it.

“Alcohol use is associated with pretty much every kind of cancer that we have and for women, it’s associated with an increased risk of breast cancer,” said Wyman.

Two drinks per day for women is associated with almost double the risk of breast cancer, she said.

“Women are even more at risk from alcohol with respect to increased cancer risks than men are,” added Wyman.

For women, the recommendation is no more than 10 drinks per week and two drinks on any given occasion. That’s because of the well-recognized health concerns with drinking any more than that, Wyman said.

Wine to unwind

The health concerns were not lost on Sarah Kate — an alcohol-free advocate and the founding editor of the website

“I was probably having three glasses of wine on a weeknight … on the weekends for sure I could have a bottle of wine easily,” said Kate.

After weeks of being short-tempered with her kids, waking up tired and groggy, Kate came to the realization that she was not feeling empowered.

She had what she described as a hard reckoning just ahead of the start of the pandemic.

She had picked up a book titled This Naked Mind which she credits with providing some knowledge, and then her actions followed.

Today, she feels healthier and more present and she is encouraging other women to question their drinking habits.

“It’s about the people you’re with and the fun you’re having — it becomes less about the alcohol,” said Kate.

Start Reading

Is using wine to unwind no longer working for you? Start reading This Naked Mind for free and discover why that is!

Be Aware

While Arbuckle’s sober-curious journey continues, she still allows herself a glass of wine every week or two. Now she pays close attention to how she is affected.

Red flags should go up when people find themselves drinking to quell anxiety, are having difficulty cutting down on their alcohol consumption, or if they find alcohol is interfering with daily activities, work or relationships, said Wyman.

“Look at why you’re drinking, with who and how. If you’re drinking to try to manage anxiety or mood issues, you need to talk to someone. Talk to your family physician, talk to a counsellor, talk to an EAP program,” said Wyman.

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