22 Women Get Real About How Much They’re Drinking In Lockdown

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
The first time I asked Canadian women to share how much they were drinking during the pandemic, I could have summarized my article in two words: A LOT. It was May 2020, and the combination of adjusting to WFH and losing our social lives meant that we were popping way more bottles in the kitchen than usual: An April 2020 poll by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction found that 21% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 (25% between 35-54) were imbibing more at home since the start of social-distancing. Liquor sales also climbed across the country, according to the CBC. (General best-practice guidelines for women are no more than 10 alcoholic drinks a week and no more than three drinks at a time.)
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But as we inch toward the one-year anniversary of the lockdown (with many of us across Canada now in lockdown 2.0), those Wednesday morning hangovers seem to have gotten a little old — at least judging from the women I spoke to about drinking during the pandemic. It’s not just the Dry January effect, either. “I have chosen the sober route for 2021 because it feels like a sober time,” says Justine, who quit drinking cold turkey in November. 
Here’s what 22 Canadian women had to say about their COVID drinking habits, including the OGs from last May. (It goes without saying that if you think you are overindulging and you are concerned about it, please seek support.)
“I broke up with my GF at the end of November after a drunken fight and decided to cool it on the drinking until Christmas. I haven’t had more than maybe 10 drinks total since then. I was spending so much money on booze — two glasses of wine a night at dinner-time ish and sometimes a bourbon or cognac later — and I decided that I was a very capable grownup who doesn't need that in my life all the time. Now, I’m playing with mocktails and I tried non-alcoholic red — it’s horrible, so I think I’m just going to make it an occasional thing moving forward. Polar opposite to the first lockdown.” — Meghan
“Between March and November I drank a lot of tequila. My pandemic bestie and I discovered that we could tolerate it in generous amounts, so we drank pseudo-margaritas (tequila, lemonade, and salt) most weekends and at the cottage. Wine too, in copious amounts when socializing. Since Nov. 20 I haven't had a drop of booze. I have chosen the sober route for 2021 because it feels like a sober time. I'm as mildly depressed and numb as everyone else and I just don't feel like drinking will solve anything or bring me much joy. ] I'll be the first to admit that alcohol has fuelled a lot of fun nights in my life. But pandemic drinking in 2020 was one part fun and two parts survival mechanism. Once drinking is part of the everyday monotony, or is aimless or gluttonous, it loses its shine for me. Maybe one day I will enjoy a big glass of wine or a cocktail again.”  — Justine
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Since COVID started, I've been strategic about where I spend my money, buying wine and liquor from Toronto restaurants instead of the LCBO. I've ended up discovering some amazing wines from The Federal, Bar Vendetta, Bar Isabel, Paradise Grapevine, and a great beer selection from Henrietta Lane. Because I'm actually drinking nicer stuff that comes at a slightly higher price point, I find I'm drinking a bit less lately to compensate. I want to support local businesses, but I don't want to blow my budget entirely! I'll enjoy a glass of wine (or two... or three...) between Thursday and Sundays. ” — Danielle
“At the start of the pandemic I completely threw myself into food and drink. Both my partner and I were out of work (him due to the pandemic, me long before), and planning elaborate meals with aperitivos and cocktails, and fun wines served as an outlet for creativity, for finding calm, and for creating routine and occasion. We decided to do Dry January because we like to take breaks from drinking every now and then. There can definitely be pushback and eyerolls from a group of gal pals when you say you're not drinking. You're doing it for yourself — not to sit up on a high horse — but I can see how that's the feeling that it evokes in others. It's so much fun to crush a bottle of wine with a group of friends or your partner, but personally if I do it too often, I don't feel my best.” — Andrea
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“At the start of the pandemic, between myself and my live-in partner, we would consume a bottle of red wine over the weekend and occasionally an Amaro nightcap once or twice on weekday evenings. I did Dry January this year mostly for weight-maintenance and financial purposes. But in general, compared to earlier in the pandemic I’m drinking less. Winter is really hard on my skin, as is wearing masks, so I also decided to cut back my alcohol consumption to see if it made a difference in my skin. Unfortunately, it hasn't.” — Madison
“My usual weekly alcohol consumption is once during the week and once on the weekend. Early in the pandemic, it was up to four times a week; I felt like I had a glass of wine every night with dinner and way more on the weekend. I think it was because it was spring/summer, and I was way more anxious about all the unknown things that came with the virus. Plus, it did feel like a little bit of a vacation that first three or four weeks. Looking back, I think I was over-drinking. My schedule was a mess, I was not working out or pursuing any of my other hobbies. Now, I have a much more regular schedule, one that incorporates exercise, virtually connecting with friends, trying new things, enjoying more quiet time, and yes, drinking wine. For me, it just took me a little time to find that balance within this new normal.” — Alexandra
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I chose sobriety three years ago fresh off the heels of a breast-cancer diagnosis; it was as if a switch went off internally, and I knew that chapter of my life was over. In the absence of it, I became hyper-aware of what a crutch and coping mechanism booze was. I was never a full-on alcoholic, but I absolutely had an unhealthy alcohol dependency. Celebrating? Have a drink. Need to take the edge off? Have a drink. When the pandemic hit, I remember thinking, If I can get through this I’ll know sobriety was officially a lasting change. And it is for sure. When I quit drinking, I didn't feel ready to throw it all out. So there is a decently stocked bar sitting in a box in my basement. But I chose to not drink, and focused instead on what would make me feel good and how to add more fun to my life. There's a misconception that sobriety equals no fun. I am really into food and cocktail culture and I have curated a "dry" bar of zero-alcohol alternatives to make my fave NAgroni (Non-Alcoholic Negroni), gin and tonic, and even a Paloma. Sobrii and Sexy AF are amazing — and Canadian — brands that make very legit zero-alcohol options. ” — Leisse
“I’ve always been a social drinker, but when COVD hit, I turned to booze a lot more as a way of dealing with the uncertainty and stress. I started celebrating solo weekday happy hours; having a beer or two or a large glass of wine after the workday was a way to relax and unwind and try to process what was going on. It quickly became a habit. With the second Toronto lockdown coinciding with the holiday season, my alcohol consumption ramped up even more. I felt stuck at home and emotional that I wouldn't be unable to spend Christmas with my family. A glass of nice wine or a coffee spiked with Baileys felt like a comfort that I needed/deserved. Towards the end of 2020, I realized that alcohol had become a significant coping mechanism and I wanted to break that cycle. Now that I’m almost finished Dry January, I want to continue to be more mindful of how much I drink and why. I’m also feeling a lot better physically and mentally (getting up earlier, less puffy skin, less bloated) and so I want to use this lockdown time to take care of myself more rather than ‘escaping’ with alcohol. I started reading Holly Witaker’s book Quit Like A Woman and I highly recommend it. She does an excellent deep dive on drinking culture and its impact on women. (Spoiler alert: big alcohol and the patriarchy are intertwined). It made me think critically about how messaging around alcohol specifically targets women (Rosé All Day, etc.) and some of the not-so-glam physical and mental side-effects that drinking can have in the short and long term.” — Jessica
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“Since this last lockdown, I've started having more wine, mixed drinks, or ciders a few times a week. It's not every day, but it's at least four times a week — a starter drink while I'm cooking and a glass of white wine with dinner. Friday and Saturday nights have become our family party nights, so we will make a charcuterie board and of course have a few drinks while we eat and watch a movie with the kids. I've noticed myself drinking more during this latest lockdown, especially to calm my nerves. I have anxiety and sometimes finding the drive to do anything is a lot of work. I keep trying to remind myself things are fine and it will work itself out. I'm one of the lucky ones knowing that my husband's job is secure, and he's very supportive, so that helps.” — Sandy
“I drink about once a week. My partner and I will finish a bottle of wine and a beer or two. We usually save our drinking for a weekly Zoom call we have with our best friends on Friday night. Early on in the pandemic we would drink heavily, as if we were out at the bar, on these Zoom calls. Additionally, we’d drink one to two nights that week just us two or with my parents (we were staying with them over the summer). We were very anxious about COVID and we had our first child in June, which came with its own set of stressors. As soon our baby was sleeping through the night, we would open up a bottle to help us relax and connect, but also because there literally wasn't anything else to do. Setting up a charcuterie board and drinking was the highlight of our week! My thinking was: I deserve this! I'm home all day with my baby alone and if there wasn't a pandemic, I'd be out having a drink anyways! But now during the second lockdown, we definitely realized we were drinking too much. We were worried about our health and eventually got bored."  —  Erica
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Original answers from May 2020 follow.
“I started the pandemic drinking wine pretty regularly — a glass or two, (k, sometimes three) most evenings. But then I missed that "Ahhh" feeling you get with the first glass of wine you've had in days, so I'm trying to limit it to weekends (aaand my weekends start on Thursday now). I'm probably drinking a little more than usual, but I figure drinks and food are some of our only joys in life right now so I'm okay with indulging.”  — Ciara
“I live by myself, and I don’t like to drink alone. I think I’ve had two nights where I’ve been drinking on Zoom calls and for Easter! I used to drink two to three nights a week, now maybe it’s once every two weeks. Drinking definitely doesn’t help with the anxiety. Also doesn’t help with sleep — and work is so busy I need to be sharp and focused. (No time for a hangover!) Less drinking is probably why I haven’t gained as much weight as I thought I would in quarantine. Less liquid calories excuses the fact that I used to workout every day for at least an hour at the gym. Now I’m lucky if I get 30 minutes, three days a week. — Anne Marie
“So far, I’m drinking once a week or once every two weeks. Mostly Coronas, wine, and tequila. Most of the time, it's been out of boredom.” — Sandra
“It is safe to say that alcohol consumption at our house is up, WAY up. And, if I'm really being honest, I'm not even sure why I'm drinking. I’ve never been one of those people who comes home after a long, hard day at work and pours themselves a glass to take the edge off. So why now? I will admit, sometimes playing the roles of employee, mom, wife, teacher, housekeeper, cook, and whatever else life seems to ask of us these days, drinking a glass of wine does seem to make things feel better. Maybe it allows this super type-A lady to relax and breathe. If I think about it, it’s one of the most 'normal' things we can do given everything else that’s going on. It reminds me of better times — times with friends, times with family, and times when we weren’t worried about anything but having fun.” — Rebecca
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“My drinking has ramped way down. If I have even a single beer, it becomes a real downer for me. I think it’s making me realize that alcohol is purely social for me. By myself, I don’t like it. Maybe I use it as a way to get over my social anxieties. It’s challenging because my partner has been enjoying beers and this has become maybe even slightly contentious between us. He can handle himself and finds comfort in beer. Unlike me!” —Whitney
“I'm consuming at least one drink, four to five nights a week. During the week it's usually just a glass of wine (or sometimes two), and on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) it's more like: half a bottle of wine, or a couple of coolers (I like Cottage Springs vodka sodas) or a cocktail if I'm video-chatting with friends. I discovered you can make a pretty good martini using a protein shaker cup! The frequency of my alcohol consumption has gone way up — I normally never drink during the week unless I have a special occasion. I think it's a mix of feeling like I want to reward myself for getting through another day of weirdness (I always wait until work is done and I've gotten in a workout and made dinner), and also just the subconscious feeling of missing socializing. I'm trying to not judge myself too much — everyone is dealing with this pandemic in their own way. As long as I'm maintaining balance (not eating like crap or sleeping through workouts) I feel pretty okay about my drinking habits right now.” — Jessica
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“At the start of quarantine, I noticed a big uptick in my alcohol consumption. I was socializing more and realizing that, after the Zoom calls ended, I was home alone and drunk. My sleep schedule started to get later and later and my new favourite jeans began to become my least favourite jeans (because my waistline was expanding). I saw the stack of empties in my recycling bin and the statement on my Visa and decided it was time to make a change. I found it really hard to stay away from the booze at first. So much so that I asked my roommate to hide my alcohol. I didn't trust myself not to go for my regular glass (or three) of wine because it had become such an essential part of my daily routine. I'm now on day 29 of sobriety and this lifestyle change has led to a renewed interest in fitness. I am now looking into bikes in the hope of picking up my childhood love of triathlons and I have extended my sobriety goal to Mother's Day, but suspect this will last beyond that if I truly pursue my fitness goal.” — Monica
“I have been drinking one to two alcoholic beverages per day. Usually just one, two if my kids are out of control. A lot of mixed drinks. Some from the LCBO, Aperol spritzes, and always mimosas. Prior to the pandemic, I only drank maybe one drink on weekends. I’m drinking from the stress of having kids, being stuck inside while both myself and my husband try to do our jobs from home, and home school. I think I’m also drinking more because I have more time. Plus, it calms some of the anxiety that goes along with quarantining. Some days I worry about my liver, but then I remember why I’m drinking and I know this won’t be forever (hopefully)." — Mikki
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“At the beginning of the quarantine, I was determined not to drink too much. Typically, I don't drink when I'm at home alone. I would say, throughout the first two weeks, I maybe had five glasses of wine. Total. For the last two weeks, I've been drinking more as I've been hanging out with my new corona BF. I had a Zoom birthday party on Saturday night, and I had a couple of bourbons on the rocks, but other than that, I haven't been drinking.” — Sarah
“Cocktail hour is getting earlier and earlier, and I’ve rediscovered my love for Manhattans. Working full-time and parenting a very small child has been stressful, although I feel very lucky to be healthy and still employed. Once the baby is down, I’m definitely having a few drinks while I catch up on emails, plan my schedule for the next day, and try to create some kind of order in the house. I’m drinking almost every day and having one to three drinks, which is way more than my usual habit. I’m not worried at this point, but I recognize it’s a coping tool.” — Kat 
“I’ve been drinking one to two glasses of wine, one to three days a week; usually Saturday or Sunday and one weeknight. It’s definitely more than normal; I would usually only have wine one or two days throughout a whole month. I think I am more anxious, although, because I don’t have to prepare lunches or daycare stuff for the next day, I can relax more and the nights are more my own.” — Loren
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“I just returned to my family home as a newly graduated university student and I haven't had alcohol since I’ve been back! It’s been a month now. This was really for no reason and I plan to go back to drinking when I can socialize.” — Kate
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please see here for a list of resources by province in Canada.
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 at any time or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET. Residents of Quebec, please call 1-866-277-3553.

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