35 to 55 – the danger zone for women recovering from alcoholism
According to an Australian researcher women recovering from alcoholism are in danger of relapsing between age 35 and 55 due to the increased pressure from family and work commitments.
Ms Janice Withnall, who is three years into a PhD on the experiences of women who are recovering from alcohol dependency, says women are at a high risk of relapsing as they reach midlife.
In an Australia-wide study Ms Withnall has found that women between 35 and 55 may struggle to stay sober and the pressures imposed on many of these women as they reach midlife can impair their recovery abilities.
Ms Withnall says women recovering from alcoholism require many years of treatment and self-managed care and many women in the midlife period are pulled in many directions with increased family and work commitments.
For those who have succeeded in abstaining from alcohol for more than five years, Ms Withnall says there is a risk that they will not continue their treatment and succumb to alcohol when pressures become too great.
Ms Withnall says it is crucial for women in recovery from alcoholism to maintain complete abstinence throughout this difficult period of their lives.
Her research has also revealed that career-oriented women who consume alcohol to keep up with male colleagues are increasingly finding themselves battling drinking problems and she says this accounts for the large increase in the number of middle-aged women with drinking problems.
From interviews with 120 women a dramatic difference in the “alcohol life cycle” of women and men was found and suggests the number of alcohol dependent middle-aged women has been underestimated.
Ms Withnall says she suspects there may be a “supermum syndrome” among women aged 35-55 with many drinking in private and in denial about the extent of their drinking habits and reluctant to seek help.
According to Withnall the blame can to some extent be attributed to the feminist movement and also to Australia’s drinking culture with women saying drinking to keep up with peers in the workforce was the beginning of their problem.
Ms Withnall says the last two decades has seen business conducted at lunches, dinners and after hours and many women in their 20s may have felt that keeping up with the men in drinking was the way to get ahead in their career – but by their 30s they realise they are not in control.
Ms Withnall says environmental factors play a bigger role in women’s drinking life than men’s and many people fail to understand the extreme and devastating effects that alcohol abuse has on women’s bodies and sense of self – it inflicts more damage, more quickly on women than on men and for those who have already had a problem with the misuse of alcohol, relapsing can have dire consequences.
Government figures suggest 16% of women in the mid-life group abuse alcohol, but Ms Withnall estimates the figure is closer to 25%.