Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Surge Among Middle-Aged WomenAnna Ciulla
It’s no secret that Americans are drinking more in recent years, but on the heels of last week’s news that “there is no safe level” of alcohol consumption, what’s worth noting is who—among those who are drinking more—may be in the greatest danger.
The answer to that question may surprise you: those at greatest risk are primarily white, educated, upper middle-class women in their 40’s and 50’s.
Put in more graphic terms, “drinking is killing twice as many middle-aged white women as it did 18 years ago,” The Washington Post reported in 2016.
As illustration, consider these revealing statistics:
- Women now drink as much alcohol as men—they even outpace men in their consumption of wine.
- Between the years 1992-2007, the number of middle-aged women diagnosed with alcohol use disorders “tripled,” according to journalist Gabrielle Glaser, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. She added as context that “two-thirds of American women” say they are “regular drinkers.”
- The rate at which white women ages 35 to 54 are dying from alcohol increased by 130 percent in the period 1999-2015 (according to the same Washington Post article cited above).
- Meanwhile, binge drinking is on the rise among older women (while holding steady among older men), CBS News reported last year.
Why Is Drinking Killing So Many Middle-Aged Women?
The dire statistics beg the question of why drinking is killing so many middle-aged women. Here are some possible explanations:
- Women suffer from higher rates of common mental illnesses like depression, which (as the leading cause of disability in this country) disproportionately affects women (at a rate of roughly one in four). Depression in particular is heavily linked to heavy drinking in women, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control.
- Among the demographic of white, educated, upper middle-class women—many of whom are raising children as stay-at-home parents and not drawing a paycheck—a drinking habit can develop as an effort to cope with feelings of boredom, loneliness or anxiety. In this context, alcohol serves as a “socially acceptable balm” in Glaser’s words: the most common, readily available form of self-medication.
- Finally, women are increasingly the target of advertising aimed at getting them to buy and drink more alcohol, so that heavy drinking among women is increasingly normalized.
Got another theory as to why alcohol-related fatalities are higher among middle-aged women? Share your views with the rest of us!
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