So it’s almost the end of Dry January and you’ve made it through! Firstly congratulations 🙂 And if you wonder if it’s worth it – wrap your lug holes around this! 45 seconds of a Professor of Hepatology telling you all the good things you just did for your liver in that month off!! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02hptsc
Now are you going to start drinking again tomorrow or are you rethinking your relationship with booze entirely? If you are rethinking things then a common cry is what will happen to my social life?
Never fear the answers are appearing as if you’d wished for them and someone had heard you 😉 Groups and websites are springing up to help the 43% of women who feel alcohol is affecting their lives – and membership is booming!!
At the beginning of January I read this article that looked at ‘women on the wagon’ clubbing together to cut back on drinking here. Not keen on the title but the article was well worth a read and hoorah for my friend Rachel too 😀
Feeling that wine o’clock is starting to dominate the day? Want to cut down but perhaps unwilling to give up entirely? Join the club – no, really. A new wave of clubs and websites is springing up to support the growing numbers of women who are worried about their alcohol intake and want help to cut back.
Forget the wine-soaked book club meetings: joining the rise and rise of WoWs (Women on the Wagon) is a distinct trend for 2015.
A recent study by the government-funded Drinkaware campaign found that one in five adults want to cut back on their drinking. Research by parenting website Netmums found that 43% of women wanted to drink less, a figure that rose to 83% among women who were already drinking over the recommended guidelines. The most common reason for drinking quoted by women was “to wind down from a stressful day”.
One in six British women are developing health problems caused by alcohol and nearly a quarter (24%) admitted to an NHS survey in 2012 that they had drunk more than twice the lower-risk guidelines in the previous week. The 21st century might not have seen women achieve equal pay or representation in government, but it has seen a closing of the gender gap on drinking alcohol. Women born after the second world war are twice as likely to binge-drink and develop alcohol disorders than their older counterparts.
But now there are tentative signs that could be changing, as health messages get through and women increasingly find their own ways to put the glass down. Blogs and online communities have been springing up. Lucy Rocca, founder of Soberistas, launched her website Soberistas.com two years ago and has written four books on the subject of women and alcohol. She has seen an explosion in the numbers of women keen to join the site and share their stories.
Former politician and businesswoman Laura Willoughby has just opened Club Soda (joinclubsoda.co.uk) to offer support to anyone, male or female, who wants to give up or cut back on their alcohol intake and is organising countrywide events to encourage people to socialise without alcohol. They plan future campaigns to persuade pubs to offer more soft drinks and to keep coffee and tea available for sale in the evenings.
“Lots of people do still want to go to pubs, even if they don’t want to drink,” she says. “I couldn’t believe how little was out there when I decided to give up three years ago. My dad had died from drinking and I could see a bit of a pattern emerging with my own drinking that I didn’t like.”
Club Soda has conducted an online survey about people’s attitudes to reducing their drinking and found the top three reasons to reduce drinking were to improve health (52% of all respondents), cut calories (42%), and save money (21%). Women were a little more likely than men to list cutting calories and saving money as reasons for reducing drinking. They also found 84% of men want to cut down, and only 5% to quit completely, while among women 43% want to cut down, 32% stop for a short time and 25% quit.
The figures have been showing for some years that younger people are rejecting the alcohol-binge behaviour of their parents, while the drinking habits of older women, especially those in managerial or professional jobs, are a cause for concern. Those working in male-dominated environments have an increased risk of alcohol disorders.
From the gin-swilling monsters of William Hogarth’s paintings to the ladettes of the 90s, women and drink have often attracted a sniffy attitude down the years and a lot of drinking habits stayed hidden in the home.
But concern over women’s drinking is not sexism, says Alcohol Concern. “It’s not a male conspiracy. Women’s bodies have less water and more fat. Alcohol is more concentrated in the female bloodstream and the liver has to work harder to break it down.”
Up to 15% of breast cancer cases are related to alcohol consumption, and deaths from liver disease have risen 20% in a decade. The number of alcohol-related admissions of women to NHS hospitals in England has continually risen over the past decade, from 200,000 in 2002 to 437,000 in 2010.
A spate of confessional books on the subject in recent years, written by professional women about what is often described in terms of a “love affair” with drink, has helped break down taboos, allowing women to talk more openly about alcohol use.
Rachel Black, author of Sober is the New Black, writes a popular blog about her own journey to sobriety. She says it is harder for women to admit to having a problem and that they have been left behind by men in being offered the tools they need to tackle their drinking.
According to a recent survey, 43% of women want to cut down on drinking and 25% to stop entirely.
“Alcohol has such a grip on us because it is an integral part of society, socially acceptable when in fact it is an addictive drug disguised as a sophisticated experience,” she says. “Those susceptible to addiction do not realise it until they are already too far into its clutches. As drinking in general becomes more widespread, there will be a proportional increase in the number showing addiction or dependence.
“The effect on women throughout their 20s, 30s and 40s probably is different and I would guess it becomes increasingly important with age. Not until turning 40 do you really acknowledge your own mortality and want to prolong your life and its quality.
“If you’re a mother there is an additional selfless need to do the best for children, which isn’t possible if your prime concern is alcohol. Again, if you drink but it’s not a problem, you will quite happily minimise it to prioritise your children. If, however, it is a problem, managing these two areas of life becomes difficult and conflicting.”
Last year, another book called Her Best Kept Secret became a bestseller in the US. In it, journalist Gabrielle Glaser caused controversy by suggesting that women in particular find a new approach to tackle problem drinking.
“We need to take advantage of 21st-century science. We’ve learnt a lot about how the brain works since the founding of AA in 1935 and we need to acknowledge what nearly every research study has found in recent years. One size could not possibly fit all,” she wrote. “Women who have achieved success with AA or other 12-step approaches should consider themselves lucky and keep attending meetings. But for those for whom it doesn’t work, it’s worth searching for other answers.”
“Women,” she concluded, “are drinking more because they can.”
It’s true, says Willoughby, who believes the traditional route to sobriety – Alcoholics Anonymous – is not always attractive for women. “We’re certainly not against AA, but AA wasn’t for me. I don’t, like a lot of women, identify with the word alcoholic but I knew I was drinking too much.
“A lot of women I’ve spoken to in doing research before setting up Club Soda were saying the same kind of thing. We give people a whole suite of options to pick and mix, because if you’re changing something about your behaviour then everyone has a different way that they can do that best.
“We did a snapshot of @DryJanuary followers and one in 10 mention what they drink in their [Twitter] profile – for example “wine lover” – or have a photo of themselves with a drink. We did not do a gender split, but having looked at over 5,000 Twitter profiles in the last few weeks I can tell you that they are mostly women,” says Willoughby.
“So one of our quick five-minute kickstarts [to help club members] for the new year will be: change your Twitter and other public profiles.”
TOP TIPS FOR DRINKING LESS
■ Plan something else to do at your drinking “trigger time”. If you usually open a bottle of wine around 7pm, arrange to be doing something else.
■ Have a glass of water with every alcoholic drink. It gives you something to sip and slows down your intake. Look for low-alcohol wine and beer when shopping and make sure there’s soda water or lemonade around for spritzers.
■ Take a break – test your dependence on alcohol by making sure you have two or three days off each week. It helps your body lower its tolerance and makes it easier to cut back.
■ Make known your aim to drink less – the more people you tell, the more support you should receive.
So even if you’re not planning on stopping completely there are some great tips for cutting down and one way to do so would be to have one or two social events a month that weren’t booze centric and Club Soda could help you with that 🙂
I hosted the first Club Soda Social in Cambridge last Sunday and met Laura, the founder. It was a brilliant evening of great food and alcohol free drinks with lovely company – 7 of us in total. I’m going to be hosting them once a month so if you’d like to join me then please do and if you’d like to hear Laura explaining a bit more about it then you can do so on yesterday’s edition of the Women’s Hour on Radio 4 which you can access here 🙂