There is still a lot of taboo when it comes to having productive discussions about the soaring rates of alcohol addiction amongst women – and for the past two years, I’ve been on a journey to uncover why. Through my own experiences of alcoholism and subsequent sobriety, I have also uncovered some unsavoury truths that add to this collective attitude towards women’s relationship with booze.
As a society, we tend to ignore the very genuine issues that are affecting women in the 21st century, and this is especially evident when it comes to alcohol addiction. A US study by the University of Washington published in The Lancet showed that during a 10-year period, alcohol related deaths among women rose by 67 percent. The same study also reported that the leading cause of premature death globally for those aged between 15 and 49 is alcohol.
Despite these staggering statistics, many women and girls are still having to go through addiction alone because of the stigma blocking the conversation from taking place. There are many variables as to why it’s still seen as something that should be “dealt with” behind closed doors – but it’s no secret that it’s still not socially acceptable to openly speak about our addictions and pains in the same way we would address any other health problem.
Our society’s perception of alcoholism and addiction in general still lies in a dated judgement-pool, and women are suffering at large because of it. Despite the normalisation of alcohol and the shameless marketing that convinces us that alcohol is essential in having a fulfilling life, addiction is still seen as a moral failing.
Gone are the days when the alcohol industry was solely focusing on men as their key demographic, the gender-shift in alco marketing is quite shocking. Women are at the forefront of a force-fed story that wine is their best friend, “mommy-juice” makes their children more tolerable, low-calorie booze is good for them, a glass of red wine a night is healthy – and that all of this is perfectly okay, just don’t get addicted.
Product designs that align with “femininity” are being pushed out in the hope of recruiting a new generation of consumers. And it’s working. For many people, alcohol also serves as the focal point of many social interactions. Therefore the idea of using alcohol as a social bonding glue is perpetuated in the spaces we often find ourselves in. We have been socialised to believe that anything worth doing will always be better if a drink is involved. But this also comes with the expectation that we should be a “normal drinker”.
A lot of women are being made to feel broken and less-than for finding themselves either physically or psychologically dependent of alcohol, despite its incessant presence. The reputation of a woman suffering from alcohol addiction is guaranteed to be more tarnished than that of our male counterparts. There seems to be more support and acceptance for men that experience addiction than women, and I’m beginning to realise that this also stems from the idea that women should be soft, well-behaved, couth, in-line, and constantly striving for perfection.
Due to addiction being treated as a moral failing instead of an experience that comes with many solutions, women that find themselves on the other side of “normal drinking” are immediately othered because they don’t align with the sexist ideals that contribute to the hush-hush culture.
It’s time the world understood that women of all ages are battling alcohol addiction. We need to remove the idea that alcoholism is a man’s problem. Alcohol is legal, readily available, heavily marketed, and a billion-dollar industry. Those that are suffering from addiction are not “weak willed” or lacking social conscience. Thinking in this rigid way is stopping a lot of people from getting the treatment they require.
Tackling society’s errant views about addiction is a massive undertaking, but we can all play a part in shifting the narrative and making way for support and chance. In the way we show up for people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses, we must do the same for those living with addiction. Our lives depend on it.
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