When we think of an alcoholic, we often think of someone like this:
But the reality is, there are about 5.4 million alcoholics in the US who look like this:
THE NUMBERS ON WOMEN & ALCOHOL
Fifty percent of women over 26 years old in the US drink any alcohol, and 1 in 6 women binge drink. Keep in mind that number could actually be much higher because not everyone surveyed feels comfortable revealing how much they drink.
Women’s alcohol use has been on the rise for decades, and the rate of drinking between men and women has narrowed among younger people. From 2002 to 2013, female alcohol use disorder had more than doubled. In fact, women drink slightly more than men in high school.
WHAT IS BINGE DRINKING?
Binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks (five for men) within about 2 hours. This drinking pattern is actually more common among people with a household income over $75,000 and higher educational levels.
ALCOHOL AFFECTS WOMEN DIFFERENTLY
There are a few factors that make alcohol more harmful to women. Alcohol gets absorbed into the body’s water (mostly in blood). Not only are women typically smaller than men so have less water weight, they also tend to have less water weight per pound. If you’re thinking “curves” that’s what we mean here ;). So alcohol is even more concentrated in the bloodstream. To top that off, women have lower amounts of the enzyme that breaks alcohol down to get it out of the bloodstream. That’s a triple whammy.
Women tend to develop dependence on alcohol faster than men, and suffer from its health effects faster. Those are medical issues like liver damage, earlier dementia, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Some of the women who misuse alcohol fit the stereotypes and everyone around them knows it. They embarrass themselves, get DUI’s, can’t hold relationships, waste away money… the works.
But if you look at the statistics above, you’ll notice that most are well to do, hard working mothers. They look like they have it together and are fighting like hell to balance parenting, organize the home and activities, work, and make the most of their little “me time.” They’re your soccer moms, wine and book clubbers, happy hour aficionados. Whether it’s out with the girls or at night in the closet (literally), there’s always a way.
WOMEN DON’T EXACTLY RUN FOR TREATMENT
Men are stubborn about treatment, but what they have going for them is that a man who drinks can still maintain a tough, man’s man sort of image throughout treatment. We say to ourselves: “boys will be boys” and write off their behavior as grizzled or untamed.
I see these women in my private practice, and they are far too ashamed to talk to even their drinking buddies or their spouses about their reliance on drinking. They maintain a responsible image that doesn’t jive with being outed as a woman in treatment for her alcoholism.
What mom wants to be called an alcoholic? No no, they’ll suffer as much as they need to privately to keep that from getting out. A woman is supposed to be gentle, responsible, and sacrificing for the family… right? Anything less feels like failure.
THE GOOD NEWS
Women tend to be attentive to mood and life issues, and explore themselves emotionally instead of denying issues or making excuses. And while getting alcoholism treatment may not be en vogue, women do ask for – and listen to – help more than men, on average.
The data says that women, in particular, do better with treatment that is less disruptive to their daily responsibilities and obligations at home and work. While a mom deserves to go to rehab and get well, it can be too distracting sometimes wondering if your child is getting to school on time and getting their work done. If it doesn’t feel worth the hassle then it’s not going to happen.
Women in the position discussed here typically haven’t had a good option to work on themselves. I created Self Recovery as a new way to access effective help online, privately and conveniently from home. There are many single moms and working women who have successfully used this, and don’t slip through the cracks and suffer alone. Doing something for yourself shouldn’t be at odds with your responsibilities. Let this serve as permission to do something for yourself without having it be such a big sacrifice.