When you think about someone dealing with alcohol problems, you might imagine a man facing these issues, as this is often how the media portrays alcoholism. However, the reality is that alcoholism among women is on the rise.
In the past, men were more likely to drink than women of the same age. But today, the gap between men and women who binge drink has narrowed significantly. Recent research shows that girls between 12-17 are 61.5% more likely to have alcohol use disorder than boys. Alcohol affects women differently than men, and the increasing prevalence of alcohol abuse in women brings about several serious health and safety concerns.
What’s causing this rise in women’s alcohol consumption, and what risks does it entail? The growth of alcoholism among women didn’t happen overnight. It results from greater societal acceptance of drinking, targeted advertising campaigns, and the desire to cope with stress and anxiety.
Women Can Now Enjoy Drinking
In the early 20th century, drinking was largely seen as a male activity, with women avoiding the public drinking scene. The rise of feminism changed that, granting women access to previously off-limits spaces. Female empowerment also challenged stereotypes about drinking. Women could now enjoy alcohol socially.
However, as women gained more independence, they faced increased pressure to juggle multiple roles. “Today, women’s responsibilities are enormous, and our culture expects them to handle it all,” says Leah Parker, Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Coordinator for Bradford’s A Reprieve for Women. For many women, alcohol became a way to cope with this pressure.
Glamorizing Alcohol Culture
As more women started drinking, marketers saw a new opportunity. Alcohol advertisements often target women, with beverage companies introducing sweet, low-calorie cocktails. Social media ads and influencers promote alcoholic drinks as essential for a fun and sophisticated lifestyle.
“Alcohol culture isn’t just about vanity,” says Parker. “Women often need to meet certain standards while managing various roles, such as being an employee, mother, and caregiver.” Companies capitalized on these anxieties by creating terms like “mommy juice,” “wine o’clock,” and even alcohol-themed jewelry and bags. Women of all ages use these jokes to cope with the everyday stresses of life and justify their drinking habits.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Women’s Alcohol Abuse
Sadly, alcohol abuse has increased during the pandemic. According to the U.S. National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report, women have experienced more sleep disruptions, anxiety, and decreased productivity since the pandemic started. Research also shows a 42% increase in heavy drinking days among women during the pandemic. Even as life returns to normal, the effects of alcohol abuse will likely persist for many women.
Health Risks of Alcohol for Women
While excessive alcohol consumption harms anyone, biological differences mean women experience its effects earlier than men. Women typically have less body mass and water content, causing alcohol to be more concentrated in their bodies. This leads to more immediate harm and increased long-term risks.
Alcohol-related health problems in women can range from psychological to physical, including:
- Alcoholic Hepatitis: Liver damage is more common among women who abuse alcohol over time. Alcohol hepatitis can lead to severe liver inflammation and must be addressed immediately.
- Brain Damage: Women who binge drink are at greater risk of long-term brain damage, especially if they start during adolescence. This can lead to memory problems and impaired decision-making.
- Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Women who drink heavily have an increased risk of heart disease due to high blood pressure. This condition can develop over time and may not always display symptoms.
- Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): This is a psychological dependence on alcohol, which impairs one’s ability to control alcohol consumption despite its negative consequences. Various factors, including genetics, mental health conditions, or trauma, can elevate the risk of AUD.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse in Women
To maintain overall health, the latest CDC guidelines recommend that women limit their daily alcohol consumption to one drink or less. However, it can be challenging to recognize a problem with alcohol if it’s deeply ingrained in one’s lifestyle. Common signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Turning to alcohol during times of stress or emotional turmoil
- An inability to control the number of drinks consumed each week
- Falling behind in work, school, or home responsibilities
- Consistently drinking excessively in one sitting or experiencing blackouts
- Drinking during daily duties as an employee or parent
- Engaging in risky behaviors like drinking and driving
- Strained relationships with friends or family due to drinking
- Frequent hangovers and withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit
Many women struggling with alcohol may not even realize they have a problem or in denial about its severity. Women are 50% less likely to report excessive alcohol use than men. Convincing women to seek treatment can also be challenging. “Women often feel they must keep everything together, and admitting to an alcohol problem can be stigmatized,” says Parker.
However, recognizing an alcohol addiction is the crucial first step toward recovery. Most alcohol rehab programs, such as those at Bradford or A Reprieve for Women, start with a confidential consultation. A recovery professional assesses the individual’s needs to determine the appropriate rehab program, including detoxification, residential, or outpatient services. Detoxing from alcohol should always be supervised by a medical professional, as it can be dangerous. Attempting to quit alcohol abruptly without proper care poses severe health risks, especially for long-term drinkers.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, resources are available for help. Cornerstone of Recovery’s care coordinators are available 24/7.
Call them at 205-647-1945 to learn more about their alcohol rehab program.