When you think of an “alcoholic,” what kind of person do you think of? You might think of a person with no money, no job, and poor hygiene. And because of the stereotypes everyone sees throughout their day, you also might default to the image of a man.
And while these are the popular conceptions of people living with alcohol use disorders, these thoughts leave out entire groups of people who suffer from alcohol addiction. Not only because these individuals can have high-paying jobs and impeccable hygiene, but because more and more often, women struggle with alcohol addiction as well. And the relationship between women and alcohol can be particularly complicated.
Here is the untold story of the “female alcoholic” and the unique risks that alcohol dependence carries for women.
Women and Alcohol: The Statistics
Oftentimes, the relationship between women and alcohol is not a healthy one. And this unhealthy relationship with alcohol starts young, with 32% of high-school-aged girls drinking alcohol, compared to 26% of boys of the same age. Unfortunately, the issue isn’t simply that more female students were experimenting with alcohol than male students. In 2019, 15% of female students engaged in binge drinking: an unsafe practice where an individual drinks excessive amounts of alcohol in one sitting. This is compared to 13% of male high school students.
And for many women, drinking alcohol does not stop in high school. 13% of adult women reported binge drinking, and on average they did so four to five times a month. While binge drinking does not inherently equate to an alcohol use disorder, it is a form of alcohol abuse that can quickly spiral out of control.
And these concerning numbers haven’t come without serious consequences: Alcohol is linked to the deaths of over 27,000 women and girls every year. Compared to men, women face twice as much risk of alcohol-related liver diseases. When you add in other dangers of alcohol use like heart and brain damage, it becomes clear that while alcohol is not truly “safe” for anybody, women and alcohol may be an especially poor combination.
Of course, this begs the question: Why do women and alcohol mix so poorly together? Like for anyone else, alcohol addiction in women is a multi-faceted issue. There are many causes that lead women to drink. However, the relationship between women and alcohol is often highly influenced by the unique stressors that women face.
Stress Symptoms in Women Include Alcohol Dependence
Oftentimes, alcohol abuse begins as one of several unhealthy coping strategies for undiagnosed mental illnesses. In this way, women may start drinking to relieve the symptoms of a mental health condition, then find themselves relying more and more on alcohol to deal with these issues.
This relationship between alcohol and mental illness is described as co-occurring disorders. The issue may begin with mental illness, but as alcohol abuse turns into alcohol addiction, a new substance use disorder can develop and worsen the existing mental health issue. Co-occurring disorders can happen to all genders, of course, but women face an increased risk. According to a 2016 study, one in five women have mental health issues, compared to one in eight men.
Of course, this begs the question: Why are women more prone to mental health conditions than men?
One factor to consider is societal expectations of women. In 2020, women made up just under half of the American labor force. And while this is great news for gender equality, women are expected to do more than follow a career. According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans believe that women face pressure to be attentive, involved mothers. And that pressure affects a lot of women, since 86% of all women in 2016 had given birth to a child. If we assume that roughly half of those women are in the workforce, then that’s millions of American women who are expected to both work outside of the home and act as the primary caregiver to a child.
Faced with these dual pressures, many women find themselves dealing with significant amounts of stress. And chronic stress has been shown to have serious consequences for both mental and physical health, including increasing the risk of depression and anxiety. In turn, these untreated mental health issues can lead to alcohol abuse. Thus, without proper coping skills, this increased stress actively contributes to the unhealthy relationship between many women and alcohol.
And since the pandemic hit, things have only gotten even more stressful, especially for women. For many women, they have suddenly found themselves in one of two difficult positions. The first is that they are unemployed due to job losses during the pandemic, which can greatly increase stress, especially for single mothers. The second position that many women find themselves in is working from home while also taking care of children who are learning remotely. Both of these situations greatly contribute to stress levels in women, which can increase their dependence on alcohol and their risk of developing alcohol use disorders.
Women Drinking Alcohol Face Higher Risks
The problem is that, unfortunately, women who drink alcohol are at higher risk for alcohol-related health disorders than their male counterparts. And part of that has to do with the way that women process alcohol.
For example, since women tend to weigh less than men on average and have less water in their bodies, the same number of drinks for a man and woman will lead to a higher blood alcohol level in the woman. This increases the risk for side effects of alcohol abuse, which could contribute to why women and girls face so many negative health effects of alcohol.
It’s important to remember that more men than women die from alcohol-related disorders every year. However, women don’t get off easy, either. Because women often have higher blood alcohol levels, the long-term consequences of alcohol abuse develop more quickly in women than men. For example, comparing people who drink the same amount, women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis, a serious and potentially deadly liver disease that can lead to cirrhosis.
All of this is to say that women have good reason to expect negative health consequences from unhealthy drinking habits. For both physical and mental health, women face increased risk of developing alcohol-related health conditions. And to help break the unhealthy relationship between women and alcohol, we offer comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment that can restore people to health and happiness.
Treatment for Women and Alcohol Dependence
Treatment with us starts with a medical detox program where you can safely get alcohol and any other drug out of your system. Then you’ll start your stay in our 75-bed mental health facility that’s located on 20 beautiful and serene acres of land. Here, you’ll receive treatment that’s specifically designed to help people with co-occurring disorders. We offer personalized treatment plans with evidence-based treatment options that include:
To get started on the road to recovery, contact our admissions specialists at 772-408-5871 or fill out our confidential contact form. We understand the unique pressures that women with alcohol dependence face, and we’re here to provide the professional addiction treatment that you need.