Nobody likes breaking up, but sometimes it’s for the best. Breakups is something that everyone experiences in their lifetime. However, no matter how many breakups you experience, they never seem to get easier, especially when you have a lot of time invested. There’s a popular saying that says “some people come into your life for a season or a lifetime”. This saying doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships, it can include friendships and relationships with certain habits, like the relationships that women develop with alcohol. Often times women identify alcohol as more than a seasonal friend, even though it’s a relationship that should’ve never began. Many women are introduced to alcohol at a young age, which makes it even harder to cut ties. According the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) by age 15, about 29.8 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink. Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
After reading the book, “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol” by Ann Dowsett Johnston, I noticed that many women who struggled with alcoholism started in their early teens. Another common theme that I noticed was that many women were using alcohol to cope with depression, anxiety, and abuse brought on by childhood trauma. Mental health seems to be a common underlying factor that encourages women to turn to alcohol. This isn’t surprising given that research shows that women drink for more negative reinforcement, meaning that they drink to remove or block out an adverse experience. For example, 1 in 4 girls experience sexual abuse in childhood. Women who endure sexual abuse as a child may not know how to express their feelings or may not feel safe enough to do so. Therefore, they turn to alcohol, drugs, or other risky behaviors to block out the experience and numb the pain. In addition to childhood trauma the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that depression is more common among women than men, likely due to certain biological, hormonal, and social factors that are unique to women. Some of the physical and hormonal changes that impact women’s mental health include, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), perinatal depression (depression during pregnancy), postpartum depression (depression after the baby is born), and perimenopause (the transition into menopause). Whether it’s an adverse childhood experience or a physical or hormonal change, many women have a hard time dealing with these experiences and may resort to unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol.
So what’s the solution? As of right now there is no perfect solution; however, there are things that can be done to help mitigate the increase in alcohol consumption among women. For starters we need to know our audience or what populations are most vulnerable to alcohol abuse. Of course, women are the main concern; however, we need to dig deeper and find out if there are specific age groups, races, or demographic areas that should be targeted more strongly than others. This doesn’t mean all women won’t be targeted; however, this will guide interventions and messaging for specific populations.
As stated in the beginning, breakups are hard and they can sometimes be messy. Have you ever had a friend who was dating someone that just wasn’t good for them? And no matter how much you warned them, they continued the relationship anyway? Well the relationship between women and alcohol can be similar. In order for women to cut ties with this toxic substance, they have to understand and see for themselves that this relationship is no good for them. Therefore, education and awareness is key. There needs to be stronger messaging about the adverse effects of alcohol use among women. According to NIAAA, women who regularly misuse alcohol increase their chances of developing liver damage, heart disease, brain damage, and breast cancer. Although, the adverse effects of alcohol are talked about, it’s not being pushed with the same level of urgency like tobacco or opioids; however, the effects of alcohol are just as severe. In addition, It’s important to note that alcohol companies and spend millions of dollars on marketing. In the first quarter of 2016 alone, alcohol companies spent $421 million dollars on advertising. Although, public health may not have enough money to compete with the marketing of alcohol companies, it’s important that we leverage our partnerships and think creatively about how we can implement stronger messaging that effective and will influence women to think differently about consuming alcohol.
Mental Health is an underlying risk factor for alcohol misuse and a growing issue in our society. Therefore, implementing strategies to support women and adolescent girls in coping with adverse childhood experiences and physical/ hormonal changes could deter women from turning to alcohol. One example of how this can be done is to normalize the incorporation of mental health check-ups. Just like we go to the doctor every year to check on our physical health or visit the dentist twice a year to check on our oral health, we should also see therapist or psychologist to check on our mental health. Mental health check ups could help psychologist address mental health concerns early on opposed to when it’s too late. It could also help adolescent girls and women learn healthy and effective ways to deal with stress, depression, anxiety, etc. without resorting to alcohol use.
As you can see breaking up with alcohol, is not as easy as it seems. Behavior change is not an easy task, especially when you have to change someone’s way of thinking. Alcohol use is a normalized part of our culture that has become embedded in everything we do. We use alcohol during celebrations, when we’re sad, when we’re having a girls night out, when we’re stressed and so much more. We even have holidays that celebrate and encourage alcohol use, such as Cinco De Mayo, National Wine Day, National Tequila Day etc. A lot of work has to be done in order to change people’s mindset. Therefore, it’s important to note that the relationship between women and alcohol won’t end overnight; however, with persistence and time we can make strides in decreasing alcohol consumption among women through research, education, policies, and effective evidence-based interventions.
An American Addiction Center’s Resource. (2020, April 27). Rules & Regulations About Marketing Alcohol. Retrieved from An American Addiction Center’s Resource: https://www.alcohol.org/laws/marketing-to-the-public/
Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention. (2020, May 1). Sexual Violence is Preventable. Retrieved from Injury Prevention and Control: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/sexual-violence/index.html
National Institute for Mental Health. (2020, May). Depression in Women: 5 Things You Should Know. Retrieved from National Institute for Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-in-women/index.shtml
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018, January 9). Alcohol and the Female Brain Video Bank. Retrieved from National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-and-female-brain-presented-niaaa-director-dr-george-f-koob
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2019, December). Women and Alcohol. Retrieved from National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/women-and-alcohol
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020, January). Underage Drinking. Retrieved from National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking