For ages, in our society, we’ve associated alcoholism with men. Similarly, we’ve considered heart disease to be a men’s problem. But in recent years, those stereotypes are changing.
All of the progress made by women advocates over the years have often focused on civic matters – the right to vote, for example, propelled the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and after Suffrage, votes finally reflected a more diverse set of opinions. After years of fighting and many defeats, women have more power and more options than they have ever had in the history of the United States. There are far more women in executive positions, in boardrooms, and opening businesses. In the last ten years, there has been an huge push to encourage women to enter STEM jobs – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Women are filling more and more high-paid, high-stress positions than ever before.
With all of this progress, however, comes the inevitable stress. Even workplaces that try to take care of their employees will still often have very stressful times. A combination of stress, genetic factors, and lifestyle changes can cause a person to yield to the pressure, and develop a dependence. What is interesting to note is that the same factors that can often be attributed to a risk of alcoholism can also be attributed to heart disease. Heart disease can affect men and women, but only recently have women been more and more prone to living with heart disease. With the rise of a powerful new class of women, it stands to reason that the health problems that have only affected men, traditionally, are becoming a growing threat to women.
Yes, All Women
It is, of course, not solely women in high-powered positions living with the risk factors – those from limited socio-economic means are also experiencing a rise in both heart disease and alcoholism. The new wave of alcoholism has the largest demographic of women in American history, strongly shifting the stereotype of nearly all alcoholics being men.
This, of course, is never good thing: alcoholism hurts every person living with it, but it can be different, and more deadly for women. Despite needing less alcohol than men typically need to get drunk, women are just as vulnerable to disease, whether they normally chose to binge-drink, or whether they drink steadier amounts throughout each week. What’s even more concerning is the fact that heavy consumption of alcohol can directly contribute to the risk of heart disease in both women and in men.
Addiction Can Happen Anywhere
Work isn’t the only instance that contributes to elevated stress levels in women: they are still responsible for more than their fair share of housework and childcare, including the commute to and from childcare. For years, sociologists have researched and written about the workload of working wives and mothers, but the problem still remains. Add the demands of childcare within a home, and that is a recipe for drug abuse.
Oddly enough, though fewer children are born every year, the responsibility of raising children has become increasingly difficult for young women. Without the financial landscape of previous generations, these ladies are already working longer hours for less pay, and having children makes this situation even more stressful. For single mothers, this, of course, becomes exponentially higher.
For women from limited socioeconomic means, managing childcare can be especially difficult. The less money a family makes, the less access they have to childcare, and this can put poor women and poor families in difficult positions. People living in lower socioeconomic classes often also have a difficult time leaving domestic violence situations, and receiving legal separations and divorces.
When women in these situations fall into alcoholism, it can compound other issues, too. Without access to proper healthcare, many poor women will have a difficult financial burden to face with their healthcare expenses. This, though, can still contribute to alcoholism. While addiction doesn’t discriminate against rich or poor women, women with more resources will have a much easier time accessing the treatment that they need.
College is a Hot Spot for Alcoholism
As more women feel the various pressures of work, more young women in college are also falling prey to the dangers of binge-drinking. Binge-drinking, defined by the consumption of more than four drinks within two hours, is a dangerous practice that has taken over many college campuses as a way to party hard. Just a few years ago, it was extremely unusual that any woman would be found binge-drinking, but as time has passed, binge-drinking has become commonplace among both men and women.
While binge-drinking has a long list of health dangers, there are other dangers to which women who binge drink are vulnerable, and they include sexual assault. Over half of sexual assaults occur after the perpetrator has been drinking. Binge-drinking dramatically raises the possibility that a woman will be assaulted, as well as the elevated chance of alcohol poisoning. Binge-drinking was one of the primary causes for women in the emergency room in 2018.
Binge-drinking, of course, is far from the only cause of alcohol-related deaths, nor have alcohol-related deaths received the attention that they still deserve. The terrifying Opioid Epidemic has overrun media reports of drug overdoses, and the level of alcohol awareness, and awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking, has taken a backseat in the American consciousness. With the scary nature of opioids and amphetamines, it’s easy to understand how alcohol, something about which we’re so used to hearing, simply isn’t as exciting to read as a story about how West Virginia is struggling to recover from the worst part of the Opioid Epidemic. Despite the rising rate of opioid and amphetamine addiction, alcohol remains the most-abused drug in the world.
Shallow Pockets, Deep Problems
Another source of pressure in the lives of most young men and women in the country is the repayment of student loans. Since the 2008 recession, though most young people have been eventually able to pull out of the difficulty of underemployment, the long-term financial effects of going so long without salaried work, in particular, has set many members of an entire generation back. Without a strong working and financial foundation after graduating from college, it can be difficult to plan for things like marriage and children. While this may be far from the mind of many young people, it is still a source of stress for people who are young and unmarried. It is a concern for married couples, too, though – many loans have a provision that leaves the surviving spouse liable for payment if something happens to the borrower. This raises the stakes on young women who are struggling to become established professionally and financially.
No one needs a long talk about how financial difficulties can lead someone down the road to alcoholism. But with the combination of economic and social change that’s happened within the last decade, it is understandable that drug abuse, overall, has risen across the country.
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