6 Part Description of Female Alcoholism
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse is not by any means uncommon in this country. In fact it has become a relatively popular topic among researchers and scientists looking for new innovations in treatment, and alcoholism has spawn various recovery communities across the world that have worked for decades to change and improve the lives of those suffering. While some believe that it is easy to predict who suffers most, they may surprised at what the numbers actually show.
Today it is estimated that of the roughly 15 million citizens abusing alcohol in the United States, approximately 4.6 million are women. That means nearly 1/3 of the alcohol abusing population.
The disease of alcoholism or alcohol addiction may be the same regardless of age, race or sex, but many insist that there are numerous differences between men and women in the cause and symptoms. You’d think this would be a logical indication that there are different treatment strategies for women and men. Tragically this is not true for all women who have experienced treatment for their alcoholism, because some aspects unique to women and alcoholism are ignored in some programs.
Data shows that women with an alcohol dependency are different from men in essential areas such as:
- Alcohol metabolism
- Psychological consequences
- Social perceptions
Yet women are too often treated like there’s a one-size-fits-all treatment strategy for both genders, and far too often this ends in predictably poor results.
Biologically, women are very different from men, so of course they should be expected to react differently to alcohol. A woman’s body contains more fatty tissue than a man’s of the same size, so because alcohol is more soluble in water than fat women tend to experience a higher blood alcohol level than men even if they’re the same size and drinking the same amount.
Women also make smaller amounts of alcohol dehydrogenase, which are the liver enzyme that actively breaks down alcohol in the body. This also adds to a heightened blood alcohol concentration, so essentially, women experience significantly greater damage from alcohol than men.
- The Death Toll
Alcoholism is known for devastating families, careers and homes. It is also known for taking lives, and far too many people die from alcoholism every day. Female alcoholics have death rates 50 to 100% higher than those of male alcoholics, and that comes in various forms of alcohol related death, such as:
- Alcohol-related accidents
- Circulatory disorders
- Cirrhosis of the liver
In regards to long-term alcohol abuse, women are much more vulnerable to damage to cognitive functioning than men, even though both men and women test lower than nondrinkers in cognitive functions.
Studies comparing alcohol dependency in women and men show that women show equivalent damage compared to men, even though they do not drink as much for as long.
Women who are struggling with alcoholism face bigger challenges psychologically as well. Alcoholics on both sides suffer from the social stigma of the disease, but women are especially judged as morally weak when they deviate from their expected roles as caretakers of others including children and partners. Through things like the media and even books female alcoholics seem to be characterized as sexually promiscuous and lacking self-control. This double standard makes recovery more difficult for many women.
So instead of getting a fair shake at the disease aspect and the same frame of mind given to men about powerlessness, women are somehow expected to be more conservative and responsible than men when it comes to drinking? Women should share equal and if not more understanding for their affliction, seeing as how they are at higher risks biologically becoming dependent on or damaged by alcohol. Recovery can become a battle of the sexes.
Often, the shame and guilt experienced by women prevent them from seeking treatment. They may be more reluctant to acknowledge that a problem exists for fear they will be punished or humiliated.
As far as psychology, it is estimated that between 30% and 80% of alcoholic women were victims of sexual abuse in childhood. Although there is no definitive connection between early sexual abuse and alcoholism, the implications for the treatment of alcoholic women are significant. Many women have experienced:
- Emotional abuse
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- For Mothers
For mothers, especially of young children, stigma and psychology can be even worse. Women seeking help for their alcoholism need support in terms of child-care to access treatment. In addition, these women may fear the loss of the children through the legal system if they request help and acknowledge their alcoholism.
What about the mother to be? For women who are pregnant and desperately trying to change for their health, or the health of their child, a pregnancy may present a barrier to treatment, especially in treatment centers that are coed. Laws in some states impose criminal consequences for women who are abusing drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, and this makes it harder for pregnant women to admit they need the help. Rehab programs specializing in treating female clients will often have the resources to help in this process.
- Women in Recovery
One sad statistic that will hopefully change progressively as more women step into the light to seek help is that the recovery rates of women in treatment are lower than men, typically across the board.
The field of addiction treatment has made an important statement about the need for “women specific” treatment, but some would say that too little actual change has been applied to address the unique challenges female alcoholics and addicts face when trying to recover and adjust to sobriety. Luckily, there are some treatment programs and facilities set up to actively pursue a more complete and unique strategy for female alcoholism treatment.
Things like gender specific groups and gender matching with counselors, have been implimented to be a catylist for change in most treatment centers. This, however, is only a beginning; much more needs to be done to remove the stigma attached to the female alcoholic. For women suffering in silence, there is no need to wait. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588