Self

Women Today Strive To Drink Like Men & It's Literally Killing Us

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serious woman leans against a mirror

The number of women struggling with alcohol use disorders (AUD) are startling, and they appear to be on the rise.

There are 5.5 million in the U.S. alone, with staggering consequences across the globe, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

If you had to guess, who may be to blame? No, it's not men.

It has become a major health issue for women. And even though the pandemic exacerbated the problem, it's been getting worse for quite a while.

Alcohol is an addictive substance, yes, but the science of why our bodies become addicted to a substance isn't the only story here.

Many women use alcohol as a way to manage stress, pain and even to cope with trauma. I know this all to well. 

I recall a time after my son died when two glasses of wine worked for me. It took the edge off the excruciating battery in my head of not being worthy of being a mom, disappointment in myself, anger at my abusive husband, the envy of others with their newborns, and guilt — that punishing guilt. 

Why couldn’t I save him?!

After a while, it was four glasses of wine before I got the same foggy mental relief. I remember being shocked when I realized I had almost an entire bottle in an evening by myself!

The problem with escapism is that it never works permanently. It’s like hide and seek. Eventually, you are found and you have a choice: play the game again the next day with whatever consequences may come with it or choose to feel. 

Then you have to heal and manage the consequences of a potential addiction. 

RELATED: Being Human Is Hard — And Alcohol Isn't Making Us Feel Any Better

Why do so many women struggle with alcohol use disorders?

From "Mad Men" to "Bad Moms," signs point to media and alcohol marketing and messaging to women that began as liberation from male dominance, which evolved to a well-deserved mommy time-out reward.

Perhaps it’s time to wake women up to the detrimental realities of a drinking lifestyle heavily marketed as the cultural norm. 

Many sources blame the media and brand marketing to a significant degree.

I blame ghosts. Unhealed heartbreak. Emotional trauma. Secret grief. I see TV and movies portraying the reality of how women use alcohol to cope or escape and memes poking fun at women’s inability to self-regulate. 

Brand marketing gives women permission and excuses to drink excessively by validating feelings of overwhelm and providing a community of connection while avoiding the underlying truths and consequences.

In general, AUD is any pattern of drinking that creates problems in your life and poses a risk to yourself or others. And if someone is telling you "this is you" and you deny it, wake up! Denial itself can be a problem.

It’s not just that more women are drinking, but also that more women are drinking more.

The Washington Post reported in 2016 that dangerous drinking among white women had risen 40% since 1997 and that women of all races made up a staggering one million trips to the emergency room due to heavy drinking in 2013 alone.

A New York Times article reported that mothers with children under the age of 5 have increased their drinking by more than 300% during the pandemic.

Women are denying it. Women are suffering. Women are dying.

After all, alcohol is a known carcinogen, linked for decades via very solid research to mouth, liver, colon and even breast cancers. 

The rates of heart disease, various cancers, immune system complications, and other ailments related to alcohol consumption, not to mention relationship conflicts, poor performance, and overall dissatisfaction with life, are sobering.

Women suffering from Alcohol Use Disorders is an emerging health crisis that has evolved over decades in correlation with the increase in women’s rights that went from "don’t talk about it" to "normalize it" to "joke about it."

This social acceptance messaging is printed on t-shirts, napkins, wine glasses that hold a whole bottle, and more as we have been desensitized to day drinking, over-drinking, binge drinking, and drinking alone. 

RELATED: I’m Not An Alcoholic

You may be a happy drunk, but are you happy?

Women jokingly say their book club "reads wine labels" and their girls’ night out is "girls’ night in with tequila and gin" while the kids play in the other room.

But then, doesn’t someone have to drive home?

I had a client share that she was responsible because she just had to put the kids on the back seat, aged 3 and 5, and drive the golf cart a few blocks after her weekly "Momarita" night. 

What could happen, right? Another client believed she was responsible because she did not drive the car — instead, she and the kids rode their bikes.

Someone videotaped her barely being able to control her own bike, much less keep a watchful, careful eye on her children as they crossed streets en route to their home after her usual day drinking with friends by the community pool.

Let’s stop looking at who’s to blame. We know who’s to gain (alcohol producers, bottlers, marketers and distributors. Let’s look at who’s to lose and who must choose: you.

Choosing change starts with awareness.

From my practice, my friendships, and my own life, as well as from observing characters in TV and film, there's one common reason why we, women, end up struggling with alcohol use disorder: We're unhappy with our lives.

We drink to feel happy for a few hours or stave off loneliness, to find courage, or to forget something. And I believe that's because we have unhealed emotional trauma.

There's something that's victimizing us or that we're in conflict with internally.

Yet, risky behavior often creates more trauma. Imagine how mortified the over-exposed woman at the charity fundraiser felt later about her behavior.

We could talk about the physiological factors of increased drinking and trying to keep up with men. For some women, it could only be this.

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I recently heard someone jokingly say, "Act like a lady, drink like a man" as a pun to Steve Harvey’s popular book, "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man."

Ladies, when it comes to how our bodies process alcohol, we are not physically equal to men. Sure, we’ve broken glass ceilings and show up in numbers too big to ignore, but due to the general differences in our body sizes and overall mass, we are not the same. We cannot drink pound for pound, ounce for ounce, and process the enzymes the same way.

There's no denying it — it’s science.

RELATED: How I Broke Up With Booze And Got My Life Back Again

You deserve to heal your heart. You must face your truths, feel the uncomfortable emotions, and stop the self-sabotage. 

Not all addiction is directly reltaed to numbing of emotions or maladaptive coping. But for some women who have not learned how to deal with emotional pain in a healthy way, seeking an unhealthy way to escape is the only answer they believe exists. But numbing emotions is always temporary.

The problem with any numbing behavior is that the pain always comes back, so the numbing practice must also continue.

And after a while, tolerance is developed and it takes more numbing "medication" to get the same effect. 

With the right help, you can learn to face and experience the hidden emotions behind the bottle.

You can learn healthy coping mechanisms and develop a healing resiliency that will carry you forward and help you survive the trauma if you're still in it, let go of what you may still be holding onto if you are beyond it, and learn to live once more despite it.

What would be different for you if you could learn how to deal with the complex emotions of your life’s unpleasant circumstances? 

Last call, ladies. 

Get the help you need to heal your heart and live a healthy and happy life. As your self-esteem increases, your confidence and choices will reflect a woman who values herself.

Such a woman has healthy boundaries in every area of life. When it comes to alcohol, most of us don’t need to abstain; we need to be mindful. But certainly some of us might find that abstaining is the best choice. We may also need support from a mental health professional and/or a program like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Regardless, it's important to know yourself so you can respect yourself.

And if and when you choose to have a drink, let it be for enjoyment and celebration, not to numb your feelings or manage anxiety. It's such a wonderful place to be when you allow yourself to feel pleasure rather than numb pain. 

RELATED: You're Not A Drunk, But Here's Why That One Glass Of Wine Still Hurts You

Ann Papayoti, PCC, is an author, speaker, educator, and relationship coach helping people untangle from their past and heal their hearts at SkyView Coaching. She is co-author of the self-help book, The Gift of Shift. 

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