By Diana Ling, MA, Outreach Program Coordinator, Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin, and Takia Richardson, LICSW, LCSW, NASW Senior Practice Associate, Behavioral Health
National Women’s Health Week, May 10 through May 16, is an opportunity for all women to take five steps to better health: Eat healthy; exercise; take care of mental health; visit a health professional for regular primary care and preventive screenings; and practice safe behaviors, especially as we face the extraordinary challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. These reminders, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, are particularly urgent as social workers race to protect clients during the pandemic.
Stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic – including from job loss, social isolation, and health worries – may be increasing risky alcohol use among women. Alcohol sales have surged, and as with other major crises, public health experts expect an ensuing spike in drinking problems. These trends are especially concerning as studies have shown that drinking too much may weaken the body’s ability to fight infectious diseases. Gender differences in body structure and chemistry also make it more likely that drinking will cause long-term health problems in women than in men. In fact, women who drink too much are at higher risk for liver disease, brain damage, heart damage, and cancer compared to men, even when they drink at lower levels. Women also face reproductive health and birth risks related to drinking, including alcohol-exposed pregnancy and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
As key members of clinical teams, social workers can help safeguard women’s health during this challenging time by incorporating electronic screening and brief intervention (e-SBI) into routine telemedicine practices. Alcohol SBI has been proven to reduce risky alcohol use, and public health experts recommend it for all adults in primary healthcare settings. E-SBI allows social workers to continue to screen for risky drinking patterns while maintaining recommended physical distancing requirements.
NASW, the NASW Foundation and the University of Texas at Austin have teamed with leading medical organizations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a national initiative to encourage health professionals to screen women for risky alcohol use.
Visit the NASW website Behavioral Health Practice Section and page on Supporting Clients During the Coronavirus Pandemic for resources. Additional clinical resources are available through our Collaborative partners:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention Efforts
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) Prevention Program