Women seek help for their drinking as rates of risky alcohol consumption climb
By Cosima Marriner
Nicole Cliff knew she had a drinking problem because she could never manage three alcohol-free days in a row. But it was only on the eve of turning 30, when she once again couldn’t remember what had happened the night before, that she decided to get help.
“My friends’ lives were going in one direction and I was still going out and partying,” Ms Cliff recalled. “I took a good hard look at myself and thought ‘this is not living, this is not a life’. Alcohol had a hold over me and I hated it.”
She joined the Hello Sunday Morning healthy drinking movement and initially stopped drinking for three months. Then she took the plunge and stayed sober for a year. “It really opened my eyes up to who I am,” Ms Cliff, now 33, said. “Now my life is going the way I want it to.” This includes running her own yoga business in addition to her career as a scientist.
Ms Cliff is part of a growing breed of women seeking help for their drinking. Support services which once catered mainly to male alcoholics report a steady increase in female clientele.
Alcoholics Anonymous now runs women-only meetings, while women outnumber men at Hello Sunday Morning. Sixty-three per cent of HSM’s 100,000-plus members are women, and the average age is 39.
“We’re living in a very anxious time with women gaining equality and the stress that comes along with that,” Hello Sunday Morning founder Chris Raine said. “Alcohol is a drug we use to manage anxiety, so it’s not surprising more women are drinking.”
Mr Raine suggested that women juggling work and children found it easier to seek help online than turn up at a face-to-face support service.
Recent research from the UNSW Drug and Alcohol Research Centre showed women are now drinking as much as men, and younger women may even be out-drinking their male peers. Ms Cliff said: “I think a lot of women who do drink may be addicted without realising. It creeps up on them; their weekend drinks or after-work drinks morph into four days’ straight drinking.”
Alcohol researcher Janice Withnall said that as the first generations to enter the male-dominated work culture, female babyboomers and Generation Xers are most likely to be consuming alcohol in quantities that are harmful to their health. One in six women aged 35-59 is now classed as a high risk drinker, double that of 20 years ago, according to research Dr Withnall conducted for Western Sydney University.
“We have a group of women who have been drinking for a very long time, which is why we have increasing alcohol dependence in this midlife group,” Dr Withnall said.
She said the increase in female alcohol consumption is linked to the improved social standing of women, their increased disposable income and changes in social attitudes towards female drinking. As women are marrying and having children later in life, they also spend more years drinking before settling down, and the alcohol industry has deliberately targeted this group.
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