Heavy drinking among women: Normalising, moralising and the facts
The Washington Post recently featured an article on the normalisation of heavy drinking for women. Citing targeted advertising and multiple media, particularly to girls on social media, the article outlines the dangers in this trend of treating alcohol as a lifestyle rather than a drug. The obvious dangers are that normalising heavy drinking will increase the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies and have a negative impact on girls’ and women’s health. Advertising exploits the positive connections women seek with each other, making it about drinking together and promoting it on t-shirts, cups, cards and even wine labels.
The liquor industry is attempting to link drinking with gender equality. But there is nothing equal or liberating about the risks women and girls face, or the distain that is heaped upon them for drunkenness. A recent article in the Daily Mail supported public shaming of binge drinking by young women in particular, and featured numerous denigrating photos of them on New Year’s Eve. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of moralising (Suzanne Moore, The Guardian). A different dialogue is needed: one that focuses on facts, health, education, and creates platforms of conversation and support.
It’s science, not sexism that reveals the risks and consequences of heavy drinking for women and girls, and ways to reduce harm. We have learned why women may drink, the effectiveness of non-judgmental approaches to reducing harm, and best practices and policies for promoting health. The facts are not as confusing as some suggest and by focusing on them, we can counter normalising and moralising.
- Women’s bodies process alcohol differently, so woman’s alcohol level will be higher than a man drinking the same amount. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelinesreflect this sex difference.
- Men, in general, are riskier drinkers than women as evidenced by rates of alcohol-related injury and mortality, but women have more chronic health risks related to heavy drinking (Wilsnack & Wilsnack, 2013).
- Beyond the risk of addiction, Jennie Cook’s research found a causal link between drinking and at least 7 forms of cancer for both sexes (Connor, 2017).
- Claims of protective factors for cardiovascular disease are coming under scrutiny and skepticism even as these claims remain a core industry research topic and argument for drinking (Chikritzhs, Fillmore, & Stockwell, 2009)
- How and when we present the facts of drinking alcohol to women and their partners makes a difference to the health of women and their families (See 10 Fundamental components of FASD Prevention from a women’s health determinant perspective).
- Prevention of alcohol harms requires a tiered response in policy, practice, and messaging (See FASD Prevention: Canadian Perspectives)
- Comprehensive and integrated programs that build relationships work best for supporting women in making healthy choices for themselves and their families (See Mothercraft’s Mother-Child Study)
Chikritzhs, T., Fillmore, K., & Stockwell, T. I. M. (2009). A healthy dose of scepticism: Four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol on coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28(4), 441-444. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00052.x
Coalescing on Women and Substance Use. http://coalescing-vc.org/virtualLearning/section2/documents/GirlsAlcoholPregnancyinfographic7.pdf
Connor, J. (2017). Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 112(2), 222-228. doi:10.1111/add.13477
Wilsnack, R. W., & Wilsnack, S. C. (2013). Gender and alcohol: consumption and consequences. In P. B. Peter Boyle, Albert B. Lowenfels, Harry Burns, Otis Brawley, Witold Zatonski, Jürgen Rehm (Ed.), Alcohol: Science, policy and public health (pp. 153-160). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
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