One online alcohol ad every 35 seconds was received by one female social media user during isolation. And women now admit they’re drinking more than men.
One online alcohol ad every 35 seconds was received by one female social media user during isolation. And women now admit they’re drinking more than men.

Virus drives women to drink

An increase in women turning to the bottle during COVID-19 and a more than 300 per cent spike in online alcohol advertising clicks are being investigated by a South Australian researcher.

Flinders University PhD researcher Jessica Thomas will survey 500 women about their alcohol consumption and exposure to alcohol advertising.

Mrs Thomas, associate lecturer at the university's college of medicine and public health, said the research was more pertinent than ever following COVID-19.

A recent ABS survey showed 17 per cent of women reported an increase in alcohol consumption - compared with 11 per cent of men - from mid-March to late April.

A study of alcohol advertising by ListenFirst social analysts found Facebook, Twitter and Instagram activity was 326 per cent higher in March compared with the same time a year ago.

Alcohol social media shots., Picture: Supplied
Alcohol social media shots., Picture: Supplied

The increase is consistent with a Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education study, released last month, which catalogued more than 100 alcohol ads in an hour received on the Facebook and Instagram accounts of a female user on a Friday night during isolation.

This equates to an alcohol ad every 35 seconds.

More than half of these ads were pushing "easy access to alcohol without leaving home" and drinking alcohol to cope, "survive" or feel better.

Nearly three-quarters of the ads referred to COVID-19. Mrs Thomas said past pandemics indicated drinking behaviours adopted in isolation could contribute to increased alcohol dependence and long-term chronic health conditions, including alcohol-related cancers. She said research had shown women aged 35 to 54 were at greatest risk of alcohol-related breast cancer and that 20 per cent of all breast cancers were linked to alcohol use.

Alcohol social media shots., Picture: Supplied
Alcohol social media shots., Picture: Supplied

"It is particularly important right now for us to understand the impact of alcohol advertising on women and if this contributes to them drinking more, so that our findings can help influence public health policy," she said.

FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi said drinking alcohol as a coping strategy could worsen stress levels, anxiety and depression, which women appeared to be affected by more during the pandemic. "Women are taking on more caring responsibilities, their finances are more likely to be impacted and they are at even greater risk of family violence - all of these stressors contribute to increased alcohol use," she said.

"At the same time, alcohol companies are aggressively marketing to women, particularly through social media."

Those interested in joining the study can email jessica.thomas@flinders.edu.au or register at tinyurl.com/socialmediaalcoholads

Originally published as Virus drives women to drink