Everyone knows the stereotype of the drunk woman.
A number of big-time actors have portrayed perpetually-buzzed female characters, often in the role of comic relief, voicing the unfiltered thoughts no other characters will and getting laughs for it.
A number of songs praise getting “day drunk,” insinuating that it will make everything easier or more fun, and popular culture glorifies the funny lady with a wine glass in her hand, peddling cutesy signage with phrases like, “It’s not drinking alone if the kids are at home” or “What wine pairs well with laundry?”
In the meantime, celebrity women suffering from alcoholism are dragged through the mud with tabloid stories, unflattering pictures, and movies describing how abusive they were to their loved ones.
With so many narratives painting such a broad picture of alcohol and women, it is difficult to know what to believe and what to feel.
Because of these contradictory stories around women and alcohol, it is understandable that women are confused. Popular culture suggests that women are most likable while inebriated, but they rarely paint a realistic picture of alcoholism or the benefits of sobriety. The focus is usually on the expectation of relapse and of how women who relapse embarrass themselves and those around them.
Many women feel pressure in so many aspects of their lives and, because of media portrayals, assume everyone is waiting for their failure. To admit having an alcohol use problem and seek recovery treatment is loaded with stigma for many women. They worry that seeking help admits failure, and they fear the social backlash and judgments if word got out of their struggles.
Women who are addicted to alcohol may also be struggling with guilt and shame, sometimes so much so that they look for an escape – sadly, this escape could be suicide or self-harm.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
It is well known that women metabolize alcohol differently – and more efficiently – than men. This is not necessarily a good thing. That extra efficiency means the liver suffers more damage, and women will have a higher blood alcohol content than men after consuming identical amounts. Women are susceptible to developing alcoholism and addiction more quickly than men as well.
Addiction puts women at a higher risk for a multitude of health problems than their male counterparts, and also can put them at higher risk for women-specific health risks. Women who consume high volumes or binge-drink regularly will have a higher risk of cirrhosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, breast cancer, reproductive problems (including fetal alcohol syndrome), pancreatitis, ulcers, stroke, and a higher chance of developing osteoporosis.
Studies have found that women who have 2-5 alcoholic drinks per day increase their risk of breast cancer by 41 percent! Other cancers linked to alcohol use include those of the digestive tract (from mouth, throat and esophageal all the way to colorectal – and don’t forget the liver). If you have a family history of cancer on top of an alcohol abuse problem, your hope for a cancer-free future is very much compromised.
It Really Is All in Your Head
The psychological effects of overusing alcohol are just as devastating as the physical health problems associated with it. Alcoholism in women is linked to a significantly higher rate of anxiety and depression as well as suicide.
It’s not just your psychology that is affected. Studies have discovered that when women overindulge in alcohol, over time they have a much higher chance of suffering from dementia. The brain actually shrinks (brain atrophy) in the areas that control balance, emotion, self-awareness, and some levels of motor control and cognition.
This happens in all people, but the shrinking happens faster in women’s brains than it does in men’s. Thankfully, this can be reversed, but not completely – and relapsing negates progress made. The best way to recover your mind is to sober it up!
Throw a Sheet Over It, Nobody Will Notice
How many times have we all attempted to hide something because we’re afraid it will get us in trouble? Spilled nail polish on your sister’s floor? Put a rug over it. Pile of unfolded laundry on the sofa? Throw it in the bedroom and close the door before company comes over.
Attempting to disguise or downplay an alcohol use disorder is about as successful as putting a bedsheet over an elephant. Usually the harder you try to “act normal” the bigger the failure will be. Loved ones will see signs and red flags you don’t even realize you’re displaying.
And on the topic of loved ones, they are suffering from the alcohol abuse as much (if not more, in some cases) as the alcoholic. Not having someone they love be there because of being hungover or sick due to an alcohol-related illness is painful. This isn’t about guilt, but the facts are still hurtful and need to be faced head-on.
The professional staff at Iowa’s St. Gregory Recovery Center can help you not only journey toward sobriety but repair those damaged relationships. Body, mind, and spirit can be healed – and it can happen today! No one needs to suffer addiction alone. When you are ready for help, we are here.