In Australia, drinking is part of our social norms, perhaps even our national identity, so few people would question a group of middle aged women drinking on a Friday, letting their hair down.
But while we often lament the binge drinking behaviour of young Australians , we rarely recognise it as a problem for older women. Most of us are hard working professionals, busy mothers, and determined artists who enjoy a glass or stubby too many while winding down after work. The social understanding and acceptance of drinking in this group is at complete odds with what we perceive to be ‘problem drinking’.
Dr Janice Withnall, an Australian researcher and expert in alcohol abuse in middle aged women, claims that “…greater numbers of women are drinking more alcohol in the 35 to 60-year age group… We have women retiring and drinking more and women over 65 taking up drinking. At any age, lesser amounts of alcohol for women becomes a need or a habit quicker than with men,”
Even though there are several well documented health risks (NCBI, 2017) of drinking alcohol, frequent news reports of ‘drunk mums’ (60 Minutes, 2018), evidence based research (Patterson, 2014), and the odd podcast (Yumi Stynes, 2017), many middle aged women don’t realise that they have a problem.
But a lot of us do.
According to Dr Janice Withnall, problem drinking emerges once the habit of drinking itself, has become a “developed habit to cope”. Adding that “Women who are drinking more alcohol don’t perceive the alcohol as a problem or that they have a problem — it is other people’s fault they need to drink, the circumstances, their history … are the problem”.
For this reason, and many more, we have to recognise when it’s time to reach out and how to do it.
“Some of my friends will have a couple of glassesof wine most nights and tend to binge drink when socializing. I do notice many women of my age extremely intoxicated when out socializing.”
- Durga Imani.
Talking to a range of women about their drinking problems, yielded some interesting results. One issue, seven questions, and eight women — here’s what they think.
Speaking with these women, you get the sense that something is wrong, and also a clearer picture of what could be done to help women if they reach out. Women such as Ali Wittaker, know what questions need to be asked —
“Why do I drink? Could I have a social life or have fun without drinking? Do I drink to get happy or forget sorrows? How does my drinking affect my life, family, work, and friends?”
– Ali Wittaker
But as a wider community, we aren’t quite compelled to evaluate our behaviours seriously enough to change. Is this an added consequence to the taboo and perceived shame which surrounds both mental health and substance abuse in Australia? And despite the ‘high-functioning’ alcoholic being a well used social and media trope (Jess Harris, 2018), there seems to be a surprising lack of social and cultural intervention, or extensive clinical and governmental strategies to offer them any help.
If there is to be any change in the future, it seems that its time for women to shift the focus of the conversation ourselves, both in our own minds, and amongst friends. In hopes of de-stigmatising this issue, women across Australia need to begin thinking and communicating with each other in new and healthier ways.
To help you on your way to practicing better self care – here are a series of recommended tips and useful tools to manage your drinking. Some of these may seem easier said than done at first, so take it easy, try a couple at a time, or better yet, gather a group of friends or family to follow along with you.
1. Put self-care first; particularly, learn to say ‘no’.
2. Talk about feelings, mistakes and realistic expectations.
3. Develop new capabilities to work with others to meet agreed goals.
4. Share life honestly with others.
5. Enjoy wellness and knowing your worth and potential.
6. Have at least three days a week without alcohol.
7. Drink only with others.
8. Keep to the standard drink volume (100gm) quantity of 1, perhaps 2 drinks in one day.
9. Keep a diary note of when more than four drinks are consumed on one occasion, and consider what and why extra alcohol was consumed.
10. Be kind to yourself.
After spending several days talking to middle aged women, healthcare professionals, even my own mother, its clear that women want to have this conversation. And with the help of self care philosophies and inner peace, we need only look to each other to start making significant changes. It is so crucial for us all women to feel that we are able ask for help because, in my experience, we so very seldom do.
Its time we change the headlines from “I am an accomplished woman, give me a drink” to proudly say — “I am an accomplished woman – I deserve and need support”, instead.
If you or a loved one are exhibiting symptoms of problem drinking, please reach out to any of the following hotlines and support groups or get in touch with your GP.
Mental health support line: 1300 794 991
Anxiety Disorders support line: 1300 794 992
(9:00 – 5:00pm, five days a week)
To find a local womens health centre, support groups, and/or general health services in Sydney, please take a look at the map below:
A map of health centres and Alcoholics Anonymous meeting locations.
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NCBI, J Rehm, GE Gmel Sr, G Gmel, et al. The relationship between different dimensions of alcohol use and the burden of disease—an update Addiction, 112 (2017), pp. 968-1001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28220587, Last updated 2017, Accessed 8th June, 2018.
60 Minutes, Driven to drink, https://www.9now.com.au/60-minutes/2018/episode-12, Aired 6th May, 2018, Accessed 6th May, 2018
Tanya Patterson, Women to take control on binge drinking, https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/newscentre/news_centre/story_archive/2014/women_to_take_control_on_binge_drinking, Last updated 13th November, Accessed 10th June, 2018.
Yumi Stynes, Ladies, we need to talk: Anyone for a drink?, http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/ladies-we-need-to-talk/anyone-for-a-drink/8878908, Last updated 20th September, 2017, Accessed 6th May, 2018
Jess Harris, Wine, a bottle shared is a problem halved, https://www.facebook.com/WineWebSeriesJessHarris/, Last updated 26th April, Accessed 6th May, 2018