The Gender Gap When It Comes To Alcohol Abuse
Drinking alcohol is a social event. We drink when we are at parties. We drink when we are with friends. We drink when we go out for a meal. We drink when we are celebrating a public holiday. The effects of the alcohol and cheerful, friendly, jovial company make us feel good.
Unlike smoking, we associate drinking alcohol with conviviality so we often slip into alcohol abuse in subtle ways. We might take a drink when things aren’t going well for us at work or at home. We might see a movie in which the actors drink alcohol to change their state and overcome their crisis through heroism. We might take a drink when we want to escape from a feeling of grief, fear, or anger. Slowly, the link between the use of alcohol and a state change gets stronger.
Over time, we come to rely on alcohol as our way out of unpleasant feelings.
Women and Alcohol
In our modern era, alcohol abuse has affected the lives of many women in the western world.
Alcohol treatment centers for women hear many stories of women who turned to alcohol for solace only to find that it ruined their health, their vitality, their self-esteem, their relationships with spouse and children, and even their jobs.
The best way to understand the insidious nature of dependence on alcohol to cope with the vicissitudes of life is to compare it to a relationship.
A Relationship with Alcohol
The love affair with alcoholism is a little like a toxic romance. The good feelings we originally associate with it draw us closer into the relationship. We come to see alcohol like we would a person who comforts us and is there for us when we need a friend.
Unfortunately, to continue the analogy, once we get serious about the relationship, increasing the duration and intensity, the relationship changes into something else. Instead of feeling good, we feel numbed out. Instead of feeling more able to handle things, we have a hangover. Our partner has become abusive.
A long-term relationship with alcohol is an abusive one. Although alcohol is ruining our lives, we can’t seem to break away from the relationship. We become dependent on the substance that is causing so much havoc.
However, historically women have not been heavy drinkers. Why is it that they are now at high risk for alcohol abuse? Could there be a sociological reason for it?
The Dark Side of Gender Equality
In order to understand the struggle for gender equality, we need to take a quick look at history.
Women have been socially oppressed for centuries. Although women built this country along with men, they only got the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the constitution was ratified.
In early America, women worked with their husbands on the farm. They also spent a lot of time doing domestic chores. Then, in the 1840s, ten percent held jobs outside the home because the Industrial Revolution required more cheap labor. Women have also had to struggle for educational equality.
Today, it appears that women have won the battle for gender equality for the most part — although women still tend to be paid about 21% less than men for many of the same jobs.
In this struggle, women adopted many habits that worked for men. In many cases, this worked out well. They studied more, developed more executive thinking skills, and worked long, hard hours. For instance, it’s estimated that girls now do better than boys in school and that more women are becoming CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
Unfortunately, they also adopted the habit of drinking more alcohol – often for the same reason, to numb out from the pressures of life and change their state.
However, men and women of the same weight and height will process alcohol in a completely different way. Decades of research on heavy drinking men and women have concluded alcohol abuse affects women worse than men in the following ways:
- Men can cope better with more alcohol consumption. Since men are generally larger in size, they have more blood volume. They also have more dehydrogenase, which is an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of alcohol.
- More women die from alcohol cirrhosis than men.
- Women experience more high blood pressure than men.
- Women are prone to greater risk for damage to the brain than men.
- Women are more likely to damage their pancreas than men.
- Women have more nerve damage than men.
- Women have more heart damage than men.
Women at Higher Risk
Although alcohol affects both men and women, it impacts women harder. This is not due to psychological gender differences or the influence of social dynamics but due to biology. Women experience the toxins in alcohol more acutely. The toxins have a more potent effect on their brains and organs. As a result, women are at a higher risk for liver disease, brain damage, cancer, and heart disease.
While the health risks alone are enough to ruin a woman’s life, alcoholism wreaks damage to their marriages, their roles as responsible mothers, and their careers. Unfortunately, it is only when the pain of their chaotic life situation becomes unbearable do they ask for help to get sober.