Recently I read a piece in a newspaper on how the numbers of women being caught driving whilst over the legal limit of blood alcohol has doubled over the past 15 years. The article went on to say that 17% of female motorists believed that they may have driven whilst over the limit in the past 12 months, some whilst ferrying their kids around.
Whilst driving whilst over the limit is a serious offence and carries significant risks across the board, this piece got me thinking about how the use of alcohol has increasingly been normalised amongst women during the past 20 years. Being drunk or using (abusing) alcohol on a regular basis was once the domain of men but a significant social shift has taken place whereby women are now increasingly reliant on alcohol to get through their days. There is no one reason for this social change – alcohol manufacturers have been increasingly targeting women; the rise of online shopping meaning alcohol can be discreetly delivered to our front door rather than having to be bought in an off-licence; the ‘ladette’ culture of the ‘90’s; social isolation of mothers – these factors have no doubt all played a role. However, what these factors fail to identify is what women are feeling that is making them increasingly turn to alcohol.
The latter is a complicated question, but perhaps the answer lies less in identifying what female drinkers are feeling specifically (as to do so would be a sexist generalisation) and more in why they feel the need to escape from what they are feeling. And this question, in turn, perhaps removes the gender gap between the sexes and may suggest that women are feeling a lot of what men are. True, society has changed, equality means it is increasingly acceptable for women to drink, alcohol can be procured through the anonymity of the internet, but like with any dependence (addiction), it is not the ease of procurement or social acceptability that defines how many people succumb to feeling reliant of that behaviour of substance. This is the basis of modern addiction work – stop focusing the substance or behaviour and get curious about what is so unbearable to feel.
Addiction is a communication about how we are struggling to cope beneath the surface. It is a way of ‘killing off’ uncomfortable feelings and questions that we are posing ourselves that we would rather not face. Often we feel (and social isolation contributes to this) that there is something wrong with us for feeling the way we do – that we are alone in our experience. Whether the aloneness is about feeling dissatisfied with family life, our careers, our relationship or, the ultimate taboo for women, in being a mother, these feelings can be unbearable and alcohol can creep in as a crutch; once we realise that it has become the problem, it is too late.
Counselling and psychotherapy can be enormously helpful in helping to both manage or break an addiction and in constructing a narrative for difficult emotions. It can help us feel normal in our experience and open up new ways of processing what we are feeling, seeking more constructive avenues of support and in making uncomfortable but necessary changes in our life. We are increasingly told how we are supposed to live, what we are supposed to buy and how we are supposed to feel by consumer culture. The problem in this is two-fold: we are all individuals and have an inherent knowledge of what we need and want leaving us feeling in conflict with how we should live versus our innate truth, secondly, to deviate from this prescribed model can leave us feeling tremendously isolated and wrong as there is no space for our personal experience.
At Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy we are experienced at working with a dependence on alcohol. We take a non-judgemental approach and will work with you to understand what is driving this behaviour to enable you to take charge of your life once again. For more information please contact Mark Vahrmeyer, Sam Jahara or one of our skilled associates who will be happy to assist.