Health & Fitness

Author looks into women’s issues with alcohol

If you’ve ever accompanied a girlfriend to happy hour or a monthly book club meeting, it’s hardly a secret, perhaps, that she can make a glass of chardonnay disappear before you can say “cocktail.” But did you ever consider she might be standing at the edge of a liquor cliff? And if you didn’t, “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink and How They Can Regain Control” is bound to make you reconsider.

Gabrielle Glaser certainly has.

“I noticed a big change in the way women seemed to be drinking from the early 1990s to the early 2000s,” Glaser said in response to an e-mail about her book.

“I noticed young women drinking excessively – pretty much everybody did – but I also noticed a big uptick in how older women were drinking, too.”

Glaser wanted to know why increasing numbers of us – white middle- and upper-class women, in particular – are turning to alcohol to cope with the issues of life.

And so in just 187 pages she answers her own question, all the while exploring women’s “wacky” history with alcohol.

The short answer, Glaser said, is women are anxious and depressed, and feel anxious that they’re anxious and depressed.

“Drinking brings pretty swift relief to those feelings, at least temporarily,” she said. “Epidemiologists link female college attendance and working in male-dominated fields such as banking and technology to more drinking, but I also think it’s stress. They have jobs, kids, aging parents, worries about aging, financial anxieties, a zillion activities they feel their kids have to be involved in. Wine is presented as a respectable release valve.”

When she started looking for statistics to demonstrate the changing drinking patterns, Glaser said the glass was half empty because women weren’t included in alcohol studies until the 1970s, and then it was only a few.

“They didn’t start getting included on a large scale until the 1990s,” she said.

Although many of the women she interviewed for the book didn’t qualify as alcohol-dependent, Glaser said what was striking was how increasing numbers were being arrested for drunken driving or showing up in hospitals dangerously intoxicated while rates for men were falling or staying flat.

“The number of middle-age women checking into rehab nearly tripled between 1992 and 2007,” Glaser said. “What’s more, while more young women binge drink, the older women who drink four drinks or more in a span of two hours do so with greater frequency. Those figures were startling.”

What should women do if they believe their girlfriend is drinking too much?

Glaser said it’s important to have open conversations.

“Nobody bats an eye if a girlfriend says she needs support in trying to lose 10 pounds. Friends help to go on walks or share diet tips or step in as running partners. But suggesting someone may need to step back from their drinking is tantamount to telling someone they have a terrible, scary problem. It’s really important to know that there are new medical treatments that offer women a lot of hope and have high success rates.”