We know a lot more about alcoholic men than we do about alcoholic women. There have simply been more studies and more research conducted about alcoholism among men. However, it’s important to know the signs of alcoholism in women as well.
Sixty percent of adult women have at least one drink per year, and 13% of those have more than seven drinks per week. Moderate drinking for women is defined as no more than one drink per day, so those women are drinking more than the recommended amount. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are all alcoholic women. But studies show that women who drink more than one drink per day are at an increased risk for serious problems, including car crashes, other injuries, violence, suicide, high blood pressure, stroke, and some cancers.
Some of the signs of alcoholism in women are similar to the signs of alcoholism in men, and include the following:
However, alcoholic women are more likely than men to drink alone, in secret. They are more likely to lie about their drinking. Why is this one of the signs of alcoholism in women? It likely has to do with the stigma about drinking that is attached to alcoholism in women. It is more socially acceptable for men to be heavy drinkers than it is for women to drink a lot. Men are more likely to go drinking with “drinking buddies.” But women are more private about their drinking habits.
Alcoholic women are much more likely than alcoholic men to suffer from alcohol-related health problems. While all alcoholics face the risks of many health problems, women face greater risks than men. Women are more likely than men to develop alcohol-related liver disease and to die from cirrhosis of the liver. Women are more likely than men to experience brain damage due to alcohol. Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of breast cancer (it increases the risk of other cancers as well).
One of the signs of alcoholism in women is that they continue drinking even after they begin to experience health problems related to their drinking and after they have been told that their health would improve if they stopped drinking (men often do this as well).
The best treatment model for women alcoholics is a bit different than that for men. First of all, women respond best in all-female treatment groups. They form strong bonds with each other and these relationships are an important part of the recovery process. In mixed-gender treatment groups, on the other hand, women don’t participate as much and receive less benefit from the groups.
Secondly, a large number of women alcoholics have a history of childhood trauma. This must be addressed in treatment. It is best addressed in individual therapy. While all alcohol treatment programs should provide individual therapy, this is essential for the successful treatment of most women.
Finally, women respond well to a holistic approach, involving mind, body, and spirit. Adjunct therapies such as art therapy, music therapy, yoga, and meditation are useful additions to traditional group and individual therapies. Spirituality should be addressed in treatment, as well.
There is a self-help program, similar to AA, but designed specifically for women, called Women for Sobriety. For more information or to locate a group near you, follow the link or call them at 215-536-8026.