Alcohol use is common among adults in the United States, and around a quarter of adults say they have engaged in an activity such as binge-drinking within the past month. According to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 5% of individuals age 12 or older in the country are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
Yet even among those who are diagnosed, many people don’t seek treatment for their alcoholism, and women are less likely than men to do so. Keep reading to find out more about alcoholism in women vs. men, including why women may be more hesitant to seek treatment for an alcohol use disorder.
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Alcoholism by Gender: Past Studies Concentrated on Men
Historically, alcoholism was a condition that burdened many more men than women, in part because men drank more than women. According to studies, in the early 1900s, men were 2.2 times more likely than women to consume alcohol at all and around three times more likely to consume it in a manner and to the degree that would indicate a substance abuse disorder. Over time, that disparity has decreased, and modern women are more likely to drink alcohol — and to become addicted — than historical numbers demonstrate.
However, with the history of addiction studies and even treatment of alcoholism focusing on men for decades, women are left somewhat on the wayside even in modern times. Much of what is known about alcoholism, how alcohol impacts the brain and body and how to treat this disorder comes from studies and experiences that primarily considered men. Though many providers have worked hard these past few decades to understand the difference between alcoholism in women and men individuals and provide the appropriate approach to treatment, having the spotlight on men for so long can make women hesitant to trust in these systems.
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The Culture Presents a Specific Message About Female Drinking
In many social circles in the United States, regular drinking on the part of women is seen as normal and even fostered. One example of this social trend is seen in “mommy wine” memes. The concept of these memes and the culture behind them is that moms are busy handling children, houses, work and other tasks. They turn to wine or other alcohol as a way to deal with these lifestyles, and memes, products and pop culture normalize daily drinking by referring to “mommy’s juice” or showing moms drinking from cute containers at all times of the day.
This culture isn’t limited to moms, either. Going out for drinks or unwinding with a whiskey at the end of the day are presented in pop culture as almost a power move by women. And while one drink certainly doesn’t lead to alcoholism in women, the message seems to be that, to get by in the world, women should be able to drink — and they should be able to hold that drink.
Admitting that drinking is a problem and seeking help are actions that feel counter to some of these cultural messages.
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Alcoholism: Women vs. Men
When it comes to the differences in male and female alcohol consumption, men as a whole are still more likely to consume alcohol. They also drink a lot more of it. According to the NIAAA, men drink about three times the volume of alcohol that women do as a group.
However, the volume of consumption doesn’t matter as much as the effects do when it comes to alcoholism by gender. Alcohol tends to hit women, in general, faster and harder than it does men. For example, women tend to have a higher blood alcohol level than men do when drinking the same amount of alcohol.
This can lead to women becoming addicted to alcohol faster than men — even when they don’t appear to be drinking to a problematic level. Women and the people who love them may not realize that addiction is at play until it becomes a spiraling problem that impacts day-to-day living or other family members or friends.
Women May Experience Different Consequences for Drinking
Depending on factors such as lifestyle, career and family and cultural beliefs, women can experience very different consequences for drinking. As previously noted, in some cases, drinking to “cope” is encouraged in the culture surrounding many women. Even if loved ones note that a woman in this type of situation is drinking more than normal, they may simply chalk it up to a bad week or stressful situation. That can reduce the social consequences that often push someone to seek treatment in the first place.
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Women Seek Care Differently Than Men
Women are less likely than men to seek treatment for alcoholism from a treatment program that specializes in addiction treatment. As a whole, female individuals are more likely to bring up issues to their primary care provider, such as a family doctor or OB/GYN. In these cases, women may not speak directly about alcohol abuse — and, in truth, may not realize alcoholism is an issue yet. They may instead speak about mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
It’s certainly important to seek help for mental health concerns, but when women broach these topics with GPs or other primary care providers, they often end up with prescriptions for medication or referrals to therapists to treat the mental health symptoms. This can contribute to a lack of proper treatment — or a delay in proper treatment — for any alcohol use disorder that might be at play.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help
If you are struggling with alcohol, you don’t have to face this battle alone. The caring staff at FHE know that each person is unique, and we consider all the factors that might impact your care and treatment when working with you to create an individualized treatment plan. Reach out to us today to find out how we can help you overcome alcoholism and return to a healthier, more vibrant life.
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