Alcohol or other substance use disorders don’t always begin during one’s teen years. Sometimes women use substances early on in life but do not develop an addiction or dependence. Later in life, they may begin to use them to deal with stress, anxiety, mental health issues, physical pain, or other concerns in their lives. For many years now, there has been research on how close the gap has closed between men and women in their alcohol use.
Women who are middle-aged are beginning to show up in greater numbers as far as alcohol use disorder goes. This relatively underdiagnosed and undertreated condition in older women is being noticed more than ever, but it is still a silent epidemic — hidden behind sometimes illustrious careers and family life that look good on the outside while inside, things are falling apart. To help identify problematic drinking in older women, it helps to know the signs and how to best support a woman who is struggling.
Drinking to Relax
There is still a huge misnomer that women (and mothers) should drink wine to relax. There are an abundance of t-shirts and other collectables that even state this. With so much going on in a woman’s world, it is easy to pick up a bottle of wine and have a glass at the end of the day. However, if a woman is struggling with anxiety, depression, or mood disorders, she may find it hard to quit drinking if it helps her relax. Her brain and body will respond positively and she ultimately continues drinking because it feels good before she realizes she cannot stop on her own. Common risk factors for women with alcohol use disorder can include:
- Family history
- Relationship challenges
- Spouse with an alcohol use disorder
- History of mental health issues
- Complications at work, stress, or working longer hours (including first responders, doctors, veterans)
- History of trauma or abuse
Alcohol is not an effective means of stress reduction, especially when compared to positive coping mechanisms. Although healthy alternatives to stress relief are better solutions, older women are continuing to lean into the idea of stress relief via alcohol use, which is leading to bigger challenges.
Women can experience health issues as a result of a problem drinking behavior. Alcohol use disorder can impact women’s body fat, liver, heart, and brain. They are at a higher risk of stroke, as well, if they drink too much. As women age, their bodies change, and, especially following childbirth, women can experience hormonal and other shifts in their bodies that make it hard to deal with how alcohol makes them feel. In time, women can put their jobs, relationships, and lives at risk due to drinking behavior.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
Older women who drink too much are likely hiding it from everyone. At least for a time, they are hiding it well enough not to be noticed. High functioning alcoholism can keep a woman from getting the help she needs for a long time. Until the chips start to fall, she may drink for years before the signs appear. If any of the following is occurring, it may be time to have a conversation on what is happening with that loved one:
- Memory loss or brain fog that seems unusual
- Poor nutrition
- Poor hygiene
- Sneaking alcohol into every family event, including holidays or parties
- Almost always seen with a drink of some kind in their hand, day or night (especially early in the morning or at odd times of day)
- Rationalizes drinking behavior after negative incidences
- Driving while intoxicated
- Suffers consequences at work due to drinking (late for work, performance issues, etc.)
- Financial issues or asking for money when they have a job (or was previously responsible and seem to be struggling now)
Other signs can pop up, but it helps to take note of them on paper. Write down what is going on every day with this person. She may be “off” for a time before anyone notices it is happening.
Have the Talk
The best thing to do is to find a healthy way to open conversation. If it is too hard, speak to professional interventionists who can help guide the dialogue. It is hard to bring this up with a loved one, but prepare evidence and have some things written down. This helps bring to light the changes that need to be effected in order to help her heal.
The family should be involved because it will help her to feel part of a community. It is hard to feel isolated and alone with addiction, much less be confronted by it. The biggest part of being able to navigate this conversation is just to get started. Sit down and talk to her. Find out what she is willing to do and let her know you support her where she is.
Without judgment, offer her some next steps to help and offer to find support for whatever she decides to do in this moment. Know that it may take time, but eventually, the talking will help her open up about what’s possible for a better future for her and her family.
Casa Capri helps women from all walks of life make a positive change by giving up addictive behaviors. If your loved one suffers from alcohol use disorder or is in denial and needs help, call us today. Let us guide you through the next steps to getting her the support she needs. Call Casa Capri today: 844-593-8020
Melissa Holmes Goodmon, Founder & CEO of Casa Capri Recovery, obtained her BA in Psychology and is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor (LAADC) specializing in women’s core issues. She is recognized as a leader in the field of mental health and substance abuse recovery where she has been an advocate since 2006.