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"How To Help A Woman With An Alcohol Problem"
by Toby Rice Drews
by Toby Rice Drews
One-third to 40 percent of alcoholics are women (in the United States). And the reason I'm making a separate category of women alcoholics is NOT that the disease isn't the same. The disease definitely is the same. However, there are some differences on how quickly women develop the disease, and the particular kinds of denials around women and alcoholism.
How women develop the disease quicker than men: There's a saying in recovery that women get sicker quicker than men. There's a "5 to 15" rule in recovery treatment. And that is this: when drinking the same amount of alcohol (and we're not talking about other drugs involved), it takes a man usually 15 years to develop to the same point in his disease that it takes a woman usually only five years to develop.
Let's now talk about the particular kinds of ways that women alcoholics are hidden. There's a particular stigma, a particular kind of toxic shame, about a woman and alcoholism -- that promotes denial.
I need hardly say how much we all know that the stigma around a woman alcoholic is much greater than around men. Our language says "Boys will be boys," but there's no such thing as "women will be women." It's much harder for a woman to admit to alcoholism than it is for a man to admit to it. Therefore, the death rate from alcoholism, percentage-wise, in women who have alcoholism is higher than it is in men who have alcoholism.
What kind of women are we talking about? What kind of categories of women? All kinds of categories of women, that's what we're talking about. Alcoholism is a disease that happens irrespective of age, class, socio-economic status, etc. As they say in treatment recovery, alcoholism is a democratic disease. It's very hard to admit that one's mother or grandmother is alcoholic. You put a string of pearls around her neck, and say she has children who are professionals, and she goes to church -- and nobody wants to say that woman is alcoholic.
You also see denial among women alcoholics who are professionals. Not only do THEY not want to see alcoholism, but neither do their families, very often. Because now women are rising up in the ranks, and they've spent so much time and money and energy going to graduate schools and professional schools. And now they're finally really making it, and no wonder they're drinking hard, because they're working hard and they deserve to have their break. And besides, if we say something, won't we be interrupting her career? And maybe we'll be jeopardizing her promotions.
And so there's a lot of unspoken messages that really have to do with denial and fear that hinder recovery. I think that two misconceptions that underlie denial are: "If we don't do anything, if we don't say anything, maybe if we make everything nice, this disease will not be progressive, and it will either go away, or it won't get worse." And that's just not the way it is. Alcoholism is progressive. And what that means is that, every day it's not treated it is getting worse. And it is also fatal. So it's taking a big chance.
The other misconception is: "Alcoholism is fatal for OTHER people." What they don't realize is that when alcoholics live long enough, they go insane or die. The end result of alcoholism is insanity or death. They usually die from one of the 350 secondary diseases to alcoholism. (I outlined all those diseases in the book "Getting Them Sober Volume 3." So you might want to take a look at that.)
But I think there's another thing that really stops most people from doing an intervention (with women alcoholics, especially). And that is: I think they feel like it's being very mean to a woman to say the ultimate thing: "You have to get sober OR there's a consequence." They really feel like that's being so harsh. And it feels judgmental.
BUT MORE WOMEN DIE FROM ALCOHOLISM IN THEIR LIVING ROOMS THAN THEY DO ON THE STREET. I'm not saying you should put her on the street, that's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that there are consequences that one can use as leverage if the person will not go to treatment. One of them is financial. I'm not saying you should turn off the heat if they're living in Alaska. I'm talking about a lot of people respond very well to financial leverage of: "If you want me to pay for graduate school, or if you want me to help pay for those software programs you wanted, or whatever, I will continue to do that, but you must get evaluated and treatment for alcoholism."
So I would suggest that you FIRST contact a health professional and look at your situation. One of the ways to find out who to talk to is to call the National Council on Alcoholism in New York City. Ask them for a referral for an evaluator or a specialist in addiction in your area. Or call a physician or a health professional who understands addiction. And have a consultation with that health professional, and see what your options are.
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The information provided herein is not intended to be considered counseling or other professional advice. Please see a health professional about your particular situation.
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