Women and Alcohol
I spent a lot of time in The Bahamas, on a small island called Staniel Cay. I will admit I was not a saint while living there. The collective, benign tolerance to extreme drinking was certainly a factor in my alcoholism. But I was often shocked by the drunken antics of women at the Yacht Club bar. On it, more like. Dancing artlessly, dodging ceiling fans or performing the rather unhygienic role of human shot glass. Flat on their backs in crop tops, strange men slurping Jagermeister from their belly buttons…
A boatload of partying women would surge into the club, fist pumping and shouting, “That’s my song!” The local guys would grin at each other with big, white teeth and say, “Sweet. Petite. New meat.” But the sexism was countered with the women’s whispered challenges to each other to “bag” an island boy. With their drink for drink prowess. With the brutishness of their brawls.
From my ringside position on the local’s side of the fray, I was able to watch the action, gather data and formulate an unscientific, but proof positive theory about women and drinking. These days, women drink like men.
The Experts Agree
The experts agree with my slightly soggy, Staniel Cay test results. By every quantitative measure, women are drinking more each year and bingeing more each year. In the past decade, more women have been charged with drunk driving. Women are more frequently measured with high concentrations of alcohol in their bloodstreams at car accident scenes. More women are being treated for dangerous intoxication in emergency rooms. And women consumers are driving the steady growth of wine sales. Men’s drinking habits during the same time period have remained flat or fallen.
Women and drinking. Here’s the catch: women can’t drink like men. We’re just not built for it.
And this is why:
- women develop substance use disorders in less time than men – it’s called telescoping
- and they tend to weigh less and eat less than men – higher blood alcohol concentration
- women blackout more than men
- pound for pound, woman have less water in their bodies so there’s a higher alcohol content in their bloodstream than men. Even if they drink the same amount
- There is a higher incidence of crimes against women when they are intoxicated (and with an intoxicated man)
- women are more susceptible to heart disease, liver damage and breast cancer
- they have higher risk of infectious diseases
- and women have unique issues associated with reproduction and pregnancy.
I’m all for positive changes in social norms. I am all for equal pay for equal work and the rather obvious notion that women should be judged by the same yardstick as men. I’ll even buy that it seems unfair for men to be free to expose their nipples on social media, when women get black boxes covering theirs (I guess). But the escalation in women’s drinking, and the cavalier, predatory attitude toward public drunkenness and promiscuity, is no way to fly the flag.
I’m reminded of the old Virginia Slims cigarette ads crowing, “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.” Like the emancipated, double edged sword of the 1960’s smoking campaign, consuming booze like the boys, is a liberating, but life threatening proposition.
The Stress of Modern Life?
I don’t want to sound like some priggish suffragette. I never danced on the Yacht Club tabletops or served as a human drinking glass to thirsty tourists, but I pulled a lot of crazy stunts while I was in my cups. And the overwhelming reason women say they over-drink, is to cope with the stress of modern life. I get that.
In the past decade, record numbers of women have sought treatment for alcohol abuse. The challenge for addiction professionals, is to get to the root cause of the rise in women’s drinking. Because the deeper emotional issues for women, linked to self esteem and confidence, are the reason for the sheep-in-wolves-clothing bravado. We’ve “come a long way, baby,” but perhaps there is an underlying disappointment, a simmering anger, that as far as we’ve come – it is not far enough…
Author, Marilyn Spiller is a writer, speaker, sober coach and recovery advocate with a 20-year history of international hobnobbing and outrageous over-drinking. Three years sober, she writes a popular blog called Waking Up the Ghost, where she pens a humorous daily account of her wobbly steps toward long-term recovery. In a full-circle testament to successful recovery, Marilyn also serves as the Director of Marketing for Sanford House. She is responsible for all Sanford House publications.