In America, traditionally, and for as far back as records can show, men consume more alcohol than women, especially when it comes to binge drinking. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Men are more likely than women to drink excessively. Men are also more likely than women to take other risks (e.g., drive fast or without a safety belt), when combined with excessive drinking, further increasing their risk of injury or death.”
The times, they are a changin’.
For many different reasons, which we will show, women are catching up to men in the problematic alcohol consumption department. According to the study discussed below, over the last decade, women are not only drinking more; women are also drinking more at the fastest rate. Female alcoholism is on the rise. Let’s figure out why.
The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions
In September of this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a national survey-style study on alcoholism. The study set out to answer this question: “Have the 12-month prevalence of alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and… alcohol use disorder increased between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013?” The answer turned out to be a firm yes, and women are named first among groups that have shown increases in all three categories.
A total of 43,909 participants were involved. The ’12-month prevalence of alcohol use’ measured how often a participant consumed alcohol during the twelve month period. High-risk drinking is defined as binge drinking five or more times within a month’s time. (Binge drinking means achieving legal drunkenness.) Finally, alcohol use disorder, AKA alcoholism, is characterized by problematic levels of drinking, being unable to control drinking, and/or depression when not drinking.
In 2012-13, as compared to during 2002-03, 12-month prevalence of alcohol use went up by 11.2%, high-risk drinking went up by 29.9%, and alcohol use disorder went up by a shocking 49.4%. These levels place America in a public health crisis regarding alcohol. Specific numbers are not given, but the study does state that “increases in all of these outcomes were greatest among women…”
Why it’s Happening: Internal Factors
There is what we consider internal and external factors as to why women alcoholism is on the rise. First we’ll focus on the internal factors, those which start from within. We’ve identified four major internal factors:
1. Women are less likely to seek substance abuse treatment than men are.
Consider the following, from a paper written by Dr. Carla Green of the Center for Health Research and published by the National Institute of Health:
“Women are more likely than men to face multiple barriers to accessing substance abuse treatment and are less likely to seek treatment. Women also tend to seek care in mental health or primary care settings rather than in specialized treatment programs, which may contribute to poorer treatment outcomes. When gender differences in treatment outcomes are reported, however, women tend to fare better than men.”
There are major implications here. Women are less likely to go to rehab, but tend to succeed more readily than men once in rehab. Dr. Green mentions there are ‘multiple barriers’ preventing women from seeking professional treatment. Some of these include deciding not to seek treatment despite suggestions to, discouragement from friends or family to enter rehab due to the stigma surrounding it, and having more friends who abuse substances on average than men.
Being less likely than men to enter rehab makes women more vulnerable to risky drinking. Also, on top of that, being discouraged to go to rehab may enforce the idea that the drinking is not problematic, creating an illusion of health when indeed alcoholism is creeping in.
2. Women tend to have less water in their bodies than men.
That might be sort of an awkward sentence to read, but nonetheless it’s true. According to Vonnie Nealon, a supervisor at a rehab facility that specializes in veteran treatment, it’s because women carry less water that alcoholism may be more likely. Women tend to weigh less than men, and to have more body fat, both of which cause a lower amount of water to be retained in women than men.
Said Nealon, “Alcohol is dispersed in the water in the body, and as a general rule, the more water available, the more alcohol becomes diluted. When a woman drinks, her organs are exposed to more alcohol and alcohol by-products than men. This result may cause more damage internally and actually accelerate the disease process.”
It is not something you think about every day, women having less water than men and therefore being more susceptible to alcoholism, but hey… that’s why you read our articles.
3. Doctors are less likely to suggest treatment to women than to men.
Although no tangible evidence could be found to support this claim directly, there is underlying proof. It comes in the form of a research-based article published last year in The Independent. From the article: “Medical professionals take longer to address women’s pain, and do less to address it when they eventually do, even when they have the same symptoms as men.” Logic tells us then that doctors are less likely to offer/suggest treatment to women than to men.
Also, again according to Vonnie Nealon, (linked above), women “are less likely to discuss their alcohol use with their physicians; and often, medical professionals fail to routinely ask women about their alcohol intake.” So, it is a two-way street. Doctors are less likely to suggest treatment for substance abuse to women, but women are also less likely to discuss their substance abuse with doctors.
It’s this circle of silence that is contributing to the rise in female alcoholism.
4. Women tend to cope using alcohol more often than men do.
It’s still a fact that American men drink more than American women. However, when it comes to using alcohol as a coping mechanism, the reasons why men and women drink are polar opposites. According to a section in a long LiveScience article, men tend to cope with external stressors using alcohol, whereas women tend to cope with internal stressors using alcohol. An external stressor would be something like having a bad day at work, and an internal stressor would be something like anxiety or depression.
Now, using that information, let’s switch gears to an excerpt from Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue, a booklet published by the National Institute of Health in 2003 and revised in 2015: “Stress is a common theme in women’s lives. Research confirms that one of the reasons people drink is to help them cope with stress.”
Why it’s Happening: External Factors
So we already know that women are less likely to seek treatment, more susceptible to alcoholism due to physicality, and much less likely to discuss treatment with doctors. These factors are all internal, meaning they begin from within the woman herself. Obviously it’s hard to change how much water you retain, male or female, but being more willing to openly seek treatment or at least discuss it is a choice that can be made.
The following are three external factors that have recently majorly contributed to a spike in female problematic drinking. The last of them, drinking among stay at home mothers, obviously applies to a specific niche of women, but as you will see, stay at home mothers are facing an alcohol crisis of their own.
1. Women are becoming more a part of ‘work buddy’ drinking.
“Hey, we’re all heading to the bar after work. Do you want to come?” There’s a really good chance, if you are of age and part of the workforce, that you’ve heard some variation of this from a co-worker. It’s fairly obvious that there is an after-work drinking culture in America. Until recently, this culture was predominantly male.
As women become more and more involved in (for lack of a better term) nontraditional areas of the workforce, women are naturally becoming more and more involved in the after-work culture. While sexist and unfair, it’s nonetheless true that up until recently, certain areas of employment (i.e. construction, plumbing, car repair, etc.) were mostly occupied by males. Putting the reasons aside, the fact is that things are changing.
It’s no longer true that any job is gender-specific, and as women integrate more and more into these nontraditional roles, that after-work bar hop becomes more and more available. The more often somebody drinks, the more susceptible that somebody becomes to alcoholism, regardless of his or her gender.
2. Alcohol is more widely available, and more advertised, than ever.
This has nothing to do with gender. If rabbits drank alcohol, there’s a good chance rabbit alcohol intake would be at an all-time high. This country is flooded not just with alcohol itself, but with the advertisement and promotion of alcohol use. You don’t need any proof to know this, because it’s written in a huge font all over the wall. Overwhelming evidence suggests that our youth is continually being exposed to more and more alcohol advertising.
The supermarket is a major culprit. Prices have dropped significantly in the last decade, and the sale promotions in stores can be absurd. For men and women, alcohol has become more of a regular household grocery list item than ever. Vonnie Nealon believes this lowering of price and increasing of promotion is geared toward women specifically.
3. Stay at home mothers are drinking more than ever.
In 2015, UK-based group Alcohol Concern conducted a study to determine the drinking patterns of adults as it related to their roles in society. The study found that adults with children living at home were the most likely to drink problematically. The reasons why this is true are clear.
Raising kids is stressful. Doing it alone is even harder. There are different reasons for why a parent might stay at home with the kids. Perhaps he or she is single. Perhaps his or her significant other works full-time, or has to travel a lot. Regardless of why, being a stay at home parent brings a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, and a desire to quell these negative emotions. More than ever, alcohol is becoming what quells.
It is a truth, not a stereotype, to say that there are far more stay at home moms than there are stay at home dads. For this reason, we focus on this factor. ‘Moms Who Need Wine’ is a popular blog-style website. There is a book called Sippy Cups are not for Chardonnay. According to Psychology Today, two of the top five reasons mothers consume alcohol to excess are stress/anxiety and general boredom. Now, consider this in light of a stay at home mother. Are the children awake? It’s stress time. Are the children asleep? It can easily become boredom time.
If you happen to be female, reading this, and realizing it applies to you, the time has come to assess your drinking habits. If you happen to be someone with a female partner who you are thinking about while reading this, the time has come to step in and intervene. Women are drinking more than ever before in this country, a country already inundated with alcohol.
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