Women and Alcohol – Drink Like a Man
I spent time in The Bahamas a few years ago. The collective, benign tolerance to extreme drinking was undoubtedly a factor in the misuse of alcohol by the locals (myself included). But even I was often shocked by the drunken antics of women at the local Yacht Club bar. The saloon-style swinging door would burst open and another boatload of partying women would surge into the club, fist pumping and shouting, “That’s my song!” From my long ago ringside position on the local’s side of the fray, I was able to watch the action and formulate an unscientific, but proof-positive theory about women and drinking. There was an agressive, drink-for-drink similarity to the alcohol consumption – women drank like men.
The Experts Agree – Women are Drinking More
The experts agree; by every quantitative measure, women are drinking more each year and bingeing more each year. A Study by the RAND Corporation shows that women’s drinking increased by 41% during the pandemic. In the past decade, more women have been charged with drunk driving. Women are more frequently measured with high concentrations of alcohol in their bloodstreams at car accident scenes. More women are being treated for dangerous intoxication in emergency rooms. And women consumers are driving the steady growth of wine sales. Men’s drinking habits have remained flat or fallen in the past few years.
Women and drinking. Here’s the catch, women can’t drink like men. We’re just not built for it.
And this is why:
- Women develop substance use disorders in less time than men – it’s called telescoping
- And they tend to weigh less and eat less than men – higher blood alcohol concentration
- Women blackout more than men
- Pound for pound, woman have less water in their bodies so there’s a higher alcohol content in their bloodstream than men. Even if they drink the same amount
- There is a higher incidence of crimes against women when they are intoxicated (and with an intoxicated man)
- Women are more susceptible to heart disease, liver damage and breast cancer
- They have higher risk of infectious diseases
- And women have unique issues associated with reproduction and pregnancy
The Stress of Modern Life?
I don’t want to sound like some priggish suffragette. I never danced on the Yacht Club tabletops or served as a human drinking glass to thirsty tourists, but I pulled a lot of crazy stunts while I was still in active addiction. And the overwhelming reason women say they over-drink, is to cope with the stress of modern life. And during the pandemic, women’s stress levels rose commensurate with the additional workload related to childcare/education, work stressors and isolation.
In the past decade, record numbers of women have sought treatment for alcohol dependence. The challenge for addiction professionals, is to get to the root cause of the rise in women’s drinking. Especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. Because the deeper emotional issues for women, linked to self esteem and confidence, are the reason for the sheep-in-wolves-clothing bravado. We’ve “come a long way baby,” but perhaps there is an underlying disappointment, a simmering anger, that as far as we’ve come – it is not far enough.