How more women are drinking like men — and why it’s dangerous

by Iman Sheikh Tuesday June 16, 2015 Retrieved from: http://theagenda.tvo.org/blog/agenda-blogs/how-more-women-are-drinking-men-and-why-it-s-dangerous 

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If you’re Canadian, you probably drink a lot more alcohol than you think.

Enough booze is purchased per year to supply every person 15 and over with either 480 bottles of beer, 91 bottles of wine or 27 bottles of spirits. But don’t rush to assume it’s all frat boys – if you’re female, middle aged and have a job, you may be among the heaviest drinkers in North America.

Statistics Canada discovered that between 2009 and 2012, the number of male ‘heavy drinkers’ in the province decreased by one per cent but their female counterparts increased by 6.5 per cent. A ‘heavy drinker’ was defined as someone who has at least five drinks on at least one occasion a month. In 2013, the criteria changed to four drinks for females but remained five for males.

Why the rise in tippling women? One likely reason is women’s increased earning power. While women, on average, still make significantly less than men, the most recent data (2011) shows that since 1987, when the Pay Equity Act was passed, the gender wage gap in Ontario has shrunk by 38 per cent. When women compete with men in the professional field, they tend to adopt some of the outward signs of male culture.

“We already know that the more pronounced the role of women, the more equal the drinking rates will become,” says Dr. Jürgen Rehm, director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “And over the last 20 to 30 years, we’ve seen much more emancipation.”

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Another reason for rising alcohol abuse rates is intensely focused alcohol marketing towards female consumers. LCBO stores now offer dozens of wines and spirits by brands such as “Girls’ Night Out” (made here in Ontario), “Uv Cake” and “Skinnygirl.”

Since women represent about 85 per cent of consumer shopping and respond most to advertising that helps them bring out the best version of themselves, it’s no coincidence that more low calorie, low carb, ‘healthy’ options line liquor stores shelves than ever before.  Take this tagline for vodka brand Voli, for example:

“Enhanced with electrolytes and no more than 81 calories a serving, Voli Light Vodkas is just the sweet drink you need when you and your girlfriends are having a girl’s night in.”

The stress that many women experience in middle age also factors into increased rates of drinking. “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction in women’s lives today: the kids, the career, the marriage, the aging parents, the worries about their own aging,” Gabrielle Glaser, author ofHer Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink – and How They Can Regain Controlsays in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

However, it’s important for women to recognize that the two sexes were not created equal — at least in terms of alcohol tolerance. Women have smaller quantities than men of the enzyme dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach, making them more vulnerable to adverse consequences of alcohol use. In general, women also have less water in the body, so a woman will absorb about 30 per cent more alcohol into her bloodstream than a man of the same weight who has had the same number of drinks.

Many women think the trouble with drinking is primarily liver damage when it comes to their health. This is not so. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer.

Alcohol affects the level of certain hormones in the body, such as estrogen, which is a large factor in breast cancer development.

“For women, even drinking one alcoholic drinks a day can increase your risk of developing breast cancer by 1.5 times,” says Susan Flynn, senior manager of Prevention at the Canadian Cancer Society. “The risk of breast cancer may increase with every additional drink a woman has each day.”

It’s not just breasts at risk, however. Drinking can increase the risk of many types of cancer, including , colon, rectal, esophagus, larynx, liver and mouth cancer. The main component of alcoholic beverages is the carcinogen ethanol. Add to this acetaldehyde, a chemical that is produced when the body metabolizes alcohol, and you have a highly toxic combination known to create cancerous cells in the body.

Alcohol5Then there are the mental health risks associated with alcohol consumption. According to Rehm, the biggest issue with heavy drinking is a mood disorder known as alcohol use disorder (formerly called alcohol abuse). In 2012, 18.1 per cent of Canadians met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. 

For Rehm, concerns over the health effects of heavy drinking for both women and men will only increase, given the provincial government’s plans to make wine and beer available on supermarket shelves.

“There is a clear correlation and association between the number of outlets and availability of alcohol and drinking level,” he says. “And of course the harm from alcohol.”

To combat the growth in heavy drinking, he suggests curtailing the number of alcohol outlets, along with two other measures.

“Make it more expensive and ban marketing,” he says. “There’s no reason an Ontario teenager by aged 16 should already have seen millions of posters for alcohol. There is a clear relationship between efforts on TV, radio and sports marketing and the amount of alcohol being consumed. If we ban marketing, that would be one of the easiest solutions. Twenty years ago, you would never have had a wine called ‘Girl’s Night Out.’”

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