Women and Alcohol: Addiction Up 84% Since 2002 – But Why?
Just a few decades ago, alcoholism and drug addiction were considered a “man’s disease.” Indeed, presently more men are affected by substance abuse than women. But recently, and somewhat abruptly, that gap has begun to close. Women and alcohol
An extensive research project undertaken in 2017 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that the rate of alcohol abuse and dependence among women in the U.S. rose 83.7% from 2002-2013. Clinicians now often use the term “alcohol use disorder” to encompass a broad range of criteria associated with problematic alcohol use.
Symptoms of an AUD include but are not limited to, adverse withdrawal effects upon cessation, increasing tolerance (more of the drug is needed to achieve the desired effect), the inability to stick to “cutting back” or limited one’s number of drinks, emotional instability, and obsessive thoughts about drinking.
Patricia Chou, chief of the NIAAA’s epidemiology and biometry branch and study co-author, cautioned that high-risk drinking (defined as more than three drinks in a day or more than seven per week) was a public health crisis for women. Women and alcohol
Also, it has been associated with at least 200 diseases, including mental disorders and a heightened risk of many types of cancers, such as breast cancer. The study also revealed that the share of both women and men high-risk drinkers rose by almost 30% in the 2002-2013 period.
Chou isn’t the only one who is concerned, by any means. Scientists, researchers, health care providers and other experts who have witnessed the rising trend of women and alcohol use disorders also find it quite worrisome.
Associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, Katherine Keyes:
“The trajectory for female alcohol abuse now outpaces that of men. When we see these steep increases, you wonder if we are going to see a larger burden of disease for women.”
A Vicious Cycle?
Many experts posit that the marked increase in drinking among women may be, at least partially, related to anxiety, stress, and depression that arises due to disturbances in the work-life balance – simply put, women are working far more than they were 50 years ago, but also must attend to children and daily home life.
Indeed, a report by two economists at the Wharton School of Business found that women of working age are less happy today than their mothers were decades ago.
They are also now less happy as compared to men – for example, in 1972, women were 4% more likely than men to state they were “very happy.” By 2006, they were 1% less likely to report being “very happy.”
Also, the Center for American Progress reported that from 1979-2006 the work week of the average middle-class family in the U.S. rose by an estimated 11 hours. In 2011, the Center for Work and Family revealed that nearly two-thirds (65%) of U.S. fathers believe that both parents should engage equally in childcare – but less than one third (30%) actually helped.
But work-home balance is probably not the only contributor. Years ago the alcoholic beverage industry began a marketing strategy that suggested drinking was equally appropriate for women and a great stress-reliever. Some of these drinks are sweeter and tastier than beer and often include 12 oz. malt beverages such as those made by Smirnoff and Jack Daniels.
And then there’s wine. In the past two decades, wine has taken on an importance in the lives of many women in the U.S., with cutesy phrases such as “It’s Wine O’Clock” showing up on coffee mugs, t-shirts, and home decor.
The price of wine has also fallen considerably, as more and more vineyards have appeared and are producing mass quantities. Indeed, many supermarkets and drug stores sell at least one brand of wine that comes in at a remarkable $3 per bottle. And wine ain’t no foo-foo drink – with an average of a14% alcohol content, it’s roughly 2.5 to 3 times more potent than beer.
Speaking of beer – in comes the microbrews. Microbreweries have also been springing up everywhere, particularly in the midwest and northeastern areas of the U.S. Microbrews often have a more distinct and nuanced flavor than your typical American lager and may appeal more to women than say, Budweiser.
In general, excessive alcohol use has become more mainstream and acceptable for women in recent years. Stress caused by a heavy workload that is not offset by help at home has gradually put women in the same (or even worse) headspace that men have long-suffered.
In turn, alcohol manufacturers have risen to the occasion and have begun producing more alcohol, with the underlying suggestion that women deserve to relax and put a couple down at the end of the day just like men. And they do – but at what expense?
Moreover, the equality in drinking habits that women now enjoy is offset by a wide range of alcohol-related health, financial, and legal problems, which in the past, were mostly found among their male counterparts.
“Avoid using cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs as alternatives to being an interesting person.” ~ Marilyn vos Savant
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~ Nathalee G. Serrels, M.A., Psychology, Author of Women and Alcohol