Women to take control on binge drinking


New research from the University of Western Sydney has revealed how midlife women with Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs) maintain quality abstinent recovery and wellbeing.

Researcher Dr Janice Withnall, from UWS, has completed an in-depth seven-year Australia wide study of Researching with Women in Recovery (RWR).  The study explains how AUDs as a chronic illness in midlife is not helped by emergency and acute care or short-term detoxification and rehabilitation.   

The UWS RWR study is the only one in Australia to investigate the increase in number of Baby Boomers and Generation X women (aged from 35-59 years) drinking at alcohol dependent levels, and proposes the range of women-oriented healthcare practices needed to enable effective earlier intervention and personal recovery care.

This long term qualitative and quantitative study, with over 970 candidates, having abstained from drinking between 2 and 31 years, outlines how women can stop drinking and become well by talking with other women and practitioners.  The findings are not theoretical they provide a step-by-step guide on how to achieve results based on the women researched, explains Dr Withnall.

RWR is the first study designed to describe and explain midlife women's recovery change processes (mental, emotional, physical and spiritual), so that the findings can be used to help other women with AUDs, healthcare practitioners, peers in recovery, community services, supporters, educators and policy makers.

"This is not a teenage story these are women who are usually highly functional, career and motherhood oriented who then begin or return to drinking later in life."

"A vital concern is that it hasn't been recognised by the policy makers or the bodies that govern health practice guidelines here in Australia, as it is in the USA and UK," says Dr Withnall.

A critical aspect of the growing number of women misusing alcohol is their higher level of alcohol toxicity, alcohol-related diseases, and injury and death by suicide (Women in Australia 2007).

As drinking became more socially acceptable from around the 1980s and onwards this midlife group of women began to drink socially during this period and now leading into their thirties and forties around 16% have become alcohol dependent.

"We refer to this generation as the 'sandwich generation' in that they are in a career path, they have teenage kids, have difficulties in their relationship and they are also trying to take care of their aging parents," says Dr Withnall.

Concealing their alcohol problem takes more time in the day and the effect of this recognised mental illness is (for men and women) a strong belief they are not alcohol dependent and therefore do not need help for this chronic disorder, which can be treated by health professionals. The women react strongly to ordinary events or withdraw from contact with people. They are guilt ridden, in deep despair and don't know what's wrong with them.

"Alcohol is a sedative and a psychoactive drug the brain and all systems in the body are negatively affected. All emotions and thoughts are distorted. The quantity doesn't matter, what matters is that the woman believes (and her body and mind are reinforcing the addiction) the only way they can get through daily life is to drink," says Dr Withnall.

Alcohol dependency catches women without them realising; women experience rapid psychological and physical damage at low levels of alcohol intake. This dependency comes with 60 different physical and mental disorders such as anxiety; mood disorders; type 2 diabetes; heart disease and oesophagus, breast and colon cancers (World Health Organisation 2011).

"Our study shows how there are ways for women to not become alcohol dependent and there are ways for women to enter recovery and to still maintain a really good quality of life," says Dr Withnall.

This research provides practitioners with a solution, the UWS, RWR 'Recovery Triad of Healthcare Practice for AUDs' is based on women's midlife circumstances, and womanly ways of wellbeing.  The Triad combines: 1) Recovery Continuum – six phases; with 2) Recovery Care, Development and Support Guidelines for practitioners; and 3) Individualised recovery management plans suitable for women and their healthcare team for maintaining midlife health and wellness (CiRmp).

Women's recovery can be supported by our community acknowledging:

1. 'Women are Worthy' of supported self-discovery in recovery care;
2. 'Recovery Works', and abstinence in midlife is a survival priority for women because of the severity of the damage of chronic alcohol dependence on a female body; and
3. 'Midlife Women Matter', and require professional and community support for achieving good mental and physical health.

For women and families concerned about an alcohol problem visit:  AA  / Lifeline.


13 November 2014
Tanya Patterson, Media Officer

By submitting a comment you acknowledge you agree with the Terms and Conditions.