In 2013, one in eight adults in the US met criteria for alcohol addiction, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The numbers are even more startling for young adults under 30, with one in four meeting criteria for alcohol addiction. During the first 13 years of this century, women accounted for the largest increase in alcohol use.
The statistics bear out what alcohol addiction treatment providers say, namely that there has been a steady rise among young women entering treatment, especially those who are college-age and in the early stages of their careers. In the year 2013 alone, heavy drinking put more than one million American women into emergency rooms. With severe intoxication (the kind that lands a person in the hospital), middle-aged women were hardest hit. Alcohol-related deaths in women ages 35 to 54 more than doubled since 1999, accounting for 8 percent of the deaths in this age cohort. Many healthcare researchers consider alcohol addiction among women to be an emerging crisis.
Possible Reasons for the Increase
Advertising for alcohol as a way to relax and cope with the demands of a stressful life bears some of the blame for the increase in alcohol use among women. In addition, cultural and social norms have evolved. The JAMA study referenced above theorized that as more women enter the paid workforce, their level of alcohol consumption may go up. This could be due to work-related stress, or to feeling a need to keep up with the social drinking of others in the workplace.
However, one of the main reasons for an increase in alcohol addiction among young women could simply be the fact that they are not considered “at risk” for alcoholism, so it is not caught early. There can be a fine line between having fun as a college student and developing an alcohol dependence. The stereotype that 12-step meetings are full of older men is really just that. In fact, you will find adults of all age groups (both men and women) at meetings.
How Alcohol Affects Women Differently Than Men
It took society a long time to understand that heart disease affects women differently than it does men, and it has also taken a long time to understand that alcohol affects women differently than it affects men. Women are typically smaller than men, and they process alcohol differently. Women tend to become intoxicated faster than men, and there is mounting evidence that alcohol can increase the risk of diseases like breast cancer.
In women, blood alcohol levels typically climb faster and stay high for longer than in men. Some research has shown that women have less in the way of stomach enzymes needed to process the many toxins in alcohol. Therefore, the diseases that go along with chronic alcohol addiction, such as liver damage and brain atrophy, are more likely in women.
The Importance of Raising Awareness of Alcohol Addiction in Women
Alcohol addiction is characterized by the experience of negative life consequences for drinking, or by regular cravings for alcohol. Men still are likelier than women to develop alcohol addiction, but there is lower awareness of alcohol addiction in women. It is critical that people understand the particular risks of alcohol addiction for women. Substance abuse in women tends to progress more rapidly from first use, meaning addiction may be the result sooner than it would be in a man. It is “normal” to think of the stressed-out mom unwinding with a glass of wine at night, but the truth is, alcohol addiction can be the end result.
About a century ago, smoking was considered a manly activity, until women asserted their right to smoke cigarettes too. While it may have been a positive stroke for equality, the result has been lung cancer deaths in women being the most common type of cancer death. Likewise, alcohol addiction is an “equal opportunity” disease, though society is likelier to picture a man being an alcoholic than a woman. As with men, alcohol addiction in women is a disease that requires a holistic, long-term approach to conquer. If you or any of your loved ones are battling an addiction to alcohol, we invite you to contact us at any time to take that initial step toward recovery.