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What Young Women Need To Know About Alcoholism

We all know that alcohol plays a central role in our social lives. And nowadays alcoholism is on the rise in women, particularly among young women. Here are certain things that every woman especially young women need to know about the alcohol-related facts.

What the Stats Say

A recent research published in JAMA Psychiatry found that one adult in eight in the U.S. meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder, aka alcoholism.

That’s pretty surprising in itself, however here’s the real shocker: Among adults below 30, one in four meets these criteria. Which is an astonishing number? One of the groups that saw the largest increase in use were women. And it’s not just the statistics that are telling this story. Treatment providers are noticing an increase in female patients, as well—especially the young ones. “I’ve seen a steady rise,” said Charlynn Ruan, Ph.D., a Los Angeles–based clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology LA. “I work mostly with women, and alcohol use is a big issue with my college-age and early career clients.”

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism alcohol affects women’s bodies differently from men’s. Women become intoxicated much easily and process alcohol differently. Also, heavy drinking (i.e. eight or more drinks every week, according to the CDC) can increase the risk for certain diseases, notably breast cancer and brain disease.

Not all people who engage in binge drinking are alcoholics but, research suggests that college-age women are more likely to exceed the recommended drinking guidelines in comparison to college-age men.  “At the first sign of a problem women need to take notice, as women’s substance use tends to progress quickly from first use to addiction than in men,” tells Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and author.

What’s Behind the Rise

Often, women learn alcohol-related behaviors during their college years—or even in high school. Experts say that this kind of pattern isn’t uncommon, and its partial credit goes to the images young people are exposed to. “We live in a society where alcohol is heavily advertised as a social elixir to help ease you into new situations, relax, and have a good time,” explained O’Gorman. With so many positive images of alcohol,  it’s easy to understand how young people develop a bond with this stuff. For instance, a fake Instagram account was created to raise awareness about alcoholism, which gathered68,000 followers in just two months.

The question is why more and more women are drinking than ever? Experts say there are several factors for this. “One is that societal expectations and cultural norms have changed,” explains Jennifer Wider, M.D., a women’s health expert. The recent study in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that as more women had entered the workforce due to increases in occupational and education options, their level of alcohol consumption has also increased as well.” While there is no definitive research on why this is exactly, it’s probably due to various factors, like women and men are experiencing similar levels of work-related stress, or their desire to “keep up” with social drinking in the office.

Lastly, there is the fact that young women are not generally known to be “at risk” for alcohol abuse, which makes it harder to recognize. From current addicts to those in the recovery process, it’s important to know that people of all genders and all age groups are at risk margin. “The stereotype of 12-step meetings being fully populated by middle-aged men is just that—a stereotype.”

Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is not always obvious, especially in individuals who generally have their lives “together.” “A person can be sober all week, then drink to extreme excess on the weekend,” says Ruan. “On the other end of the spectrum, a woman might get buzzed every night, but never binge. The key distinction is how her drinking impacts her functioning, relationships, and health.” If any of these zones suffer and efforts to cut back on drinking are not working, then it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in the first place.

According to O’Gorman,”Addiction has to do with the effect the drug has on you, more so than how often you use it, and this speaks to the biology of abuse and addiction,” she explains. “If you only drink once a year but can’t control how much you drink and can’t remember what you did, then you have a problem.”

So what should you do if you’re concerned about your drinking? “Talk to your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist or counselor,” says Thomas Franklin, M.D., medical director of The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. “Many times just a few sessions of counseling will help greatly. For more serious alcohol use disorders, there are many levels of care available from outpatient through longer-term residential treatment that have good outcomes for those that can take it seriously. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings work for many people, too,” Franklin added. Also, with more people in the public eye opening up about their sobriety like Demi Lovato and intensive research being done on alcoholism’s prevalence and its cause. So we can say that future is still more than hopeful.

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