health

The face of the modern alcoholic looks just like you.

Kate has three children, one in primary school and two in high school. Attractive and always well dressed, she doesn’t “look” like an alcoholic. Only her two best friends know she goes to AA meetings regularly. A stay at home mum, Kate hid her drinking for a long time. Years.

In a strange way Kate would describe her drinking as orderly, or even controlled. She knew when she could drink. She would wait until lunch time and tell herself it was okay to have a drink with lunch – she was an adult.

There would be two drinks before she picked up the kids from primary school and then she would start again as she cooked dinner. Within a few years the drinking went from lunchtime right through until bedtime. She was never a “life of the party” drunk, she was a “be by myself” drunk.

Then one day she slept through school pick up. She got away with it, but it started happening more regularly. Her kids would come home to her “sleeping” in the afternoon. Her husband and her went through a bitter divorce and her drinking went from bad to nightmarish with her children begging her to “not drink until dinner”.

Kate hit rock bottom when her husband filed for full custody. She worried about getting professional help because that would be on her medical record. In the end she did. She is currently six months sober and the court is yet to rule on the custody of her children.

As shocking as Kate’s story is, it’s not uncommon: in the past week, three women between the ages of 29 and 40 have been charged with mid- to high-range drink driving while picking up their children from school or daycare.

woman drinking
The realities of alcoholism are closer to home than you think. Image via iStock.

The spike in incidents like these shows that alcoholism in women often strikes closer to home than we ever thought.

In fact, one recent study showed that the number of women aged between 35 and 59 who are drinking at levels that are "harmful to their health" has doubled in the past 20 years.

The reason? When it comes to the drinking behaviours of men and women, the differences between them are becoming less and less obvious. Younger women are fast adopting the traditional drinking habits of their male colleagues.

Young people drinking beer and eating pizza at the party
Younger women are fast adopting the traditional drinking habits of their male colleagues. Image via iStock.
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It's not just those in their 20s, either. Research from the University of Western Sydney found that around 16 per cent of midlife women - women who are tasked with looking after their aging parents, husbands and children, while balancing their career and other household responsibilities - had become alcohol dependent.

A further 33 per cent were found to be misusing alcohol.

More disturbingly, the findings have less to do with the amount of alcohol women are drinking, and focus more on the fact that women believed the "only way to get through daily life" was to drink.

alcoholic
Research has shown that many women drink as a way to "get through daily life". Image via iStock.

"These are women who are usually highly functional, career and motherhood oriented who then begin or return to drinking later in life," Dr Janice Withnall, who completed the research, explained.

The World Health Organisation states that alcohol dependency comes with 60 different physical and mental disorders, like anxiety, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.