In 2013, 1 in 8 adults in the US met criteria for alcohol addiction, according to a study published by JAMA Psychiatry. The numbers were even more startling for young adults under 30, with 1 in 4 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 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 hit hardest. Alcohol-related deaths in women ages 35 to 54 more than doubled since 1999, accounting for 8 percent of the deaths in this age range. Many healthcare researchers consider alcohol addiction among women to be an emerging crisis.
Possible Reasons for the Increase
Alcohol is increasingly marketed as a way to relax and cope with the demands of a stressful life, including events directed toward women like “Wine Down Wednesdays.” This messaging could bear some of the blame for the increase in alcohol use among women. Cultural and social attitudes around alcohol have evolved. The JAMA also theorized that as more women enter the paid workforce, their level of alcohol consumption may rise. This could be due to work-related stress or feeling a need to keep up with the social drinking of others in the workplace.
Another possible reason 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 often caught early. There can be a fine line between having fun as a college student and developing an alcohol dependence.
How Alcohol Affects Women Differently Than Men
It took society and the medical community a long time to understand that heart disease affects women differently than men and similarly, 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 also 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 higher for longer than in men. Some research has shown that women have less of the 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 are still more likely than women to develop alcohol addiction, but there is lower awareness of alcohol addiction in women. Substance abuse in women tends to progress more rapidly from first use, meaning addiction may be the result sooner than it would be for men. It is a social norm to think of the stressed-out mom unwinding with a glass of wine at night, but the truth is that alcohol addiction can be the end result.
Alcohol addiction is an “equal opportunity” disease that requires a holistic, long-term approach to heal. If you or your loved one is living with an addiction to alcohol, contact The Recovery Village to take an initial step toward recovery.