Historically, alcoholism was thought of as a men’s disease. Although women did drink, and most certainly have always struggled with alcoholism, it wasn’t something that was discussed or researched. By and large, men made up the bulk of problem drinkers. This is likely due to societal influences and expectations. Getting drunk was simply not ladylike.
To this day, the Alcoholic’s Anonymous Big Book has a section devoted “To wives” of alcoholics. While this chapter can indeed apply to anyone, male or female, who is involved with an alcoholic, the message is clear. It’s a man’s disease for women to deal with.
Today, things are different. For years, men statistically drank far more than women, but that gap has closed. Women are just as likely as men to struggle with alcoholism, and in some ways, even more so.
It wasn’t until about 20 years ago that any type of serious research was done on women, alcohol and addiction. It wasn’t a topic of interest, and treatment for women alcoholics meant integrating into men’s programs that were opened to women. Fortunately, science and medicine have come quite a ways in the last couple decades, and what they’ve found is that while men and women are both vulnerable to alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, there are some marked differences in the way they are affected by alcohol both mentally and physically, the rate at which they become addicted, and the consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction.
Here are some facts about women and alcohol that you may not know:
➢ Women tend to become addicted more quickly than men, even though they may consume less alcohol for a shorter time.
➢ Hormones, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause may influence the way women respond to alcohol and other drugs, and the rate and severity of addiction.
➢ Women are more likely to use alcohol and drugs as a response to sexual abuse or assault or other trauma. Research estimates that up to 70% of female alcoholics are survivors of childhood or adult sexual trauma or physical abuse.
➢ Women’s brains behave differently in response to alcohol and drug abuse.
➢ Women are more likely to overdose or suffer physical consequences of alcohol and drug abuse.
➢ Women are more likely to drink as a response to stress or negative emotions, while men are more likely to drink to have fun or to fit in with friends.
➢ Women are more likely to also suffer from a co-occurring mental disorder along with their alcoholism.
➢ Women are less likely to seek treatment for their alcohol problem than men. And, doctors are more likely to misdiagnose an alcohol problem in a woman, and often mistake substance abuse for depression or anxiety, which may lead to prescribing potentially addictive medications such as benzodiazepines.
Social consequences differ, as well. Alcoholism in women is less tolerated than alcoholism in men. This is particularly the case when that alcoholic is also a mother. Age-old expectations of how a woman should behave still permeate everyday life. The fact that alcohol use is often associated with lowered inhibitions and promiscuity affects how women alcoholics are perceived. Women with children may be viewed especially harshly. A mother who is an alcoholic may be seen as more selfish and less responsible than a man who is an alcoholic.
Guilt and shame may play a big part in the fact that women are generally less likely to get treatment than men. Other reasons may include lack of family support, being the primary caregiver for young children or being in an abusive relationship or a relationship with a fellow alcoholic. Lack of access to healthcare is also an issue among some populations.
Clearly, women and men experience alcoholism differently. When women abuse alcohol, their motivations, needs and responses are often different than those of their male counterparts. Women are more likely to relapse, and to relapse for different reasons. Because women are more likely to be struggling with unaddressed trauma and abuse, and because women are more likely to be in an abusive relationship, these issues must be addressed in conjunction with the alcoholism in order to achieve long-term sobriety.
For these reasons, treatment must be approached differently. A women’s treatment center is an effective solution, because it is able to address the unique needs of women in a way that a coed treatment environment can’t. While gender-specific treatment centers are becoming more common, their numbers are still small, and there are simply not enough safe, supportive facilities for women in desperate need of recovery and healing.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.