Crossing the Line: Women and Alcoholism

The number of women abusing alcohol is on the rise. And the signs of addiction are far more subtle than you might imagine.
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The Rise of Female Consumption

Two or three times a week -- "sometimes less, rarely more" -- Anne Calais,* an elementary school teacher and energetic mother of two, enjoys a vodka martini or a glass of wine with dinner. Occasionally, on Friday evenings she and her husband sit with a drink in front of the fireplace in their Connecticut home. "It's about taking pleasure in each other's company," she says. For Calais, 41, alcohol is a stress reducer in liquid form. "After a few sips, I definitely feel more relaxed," she says.

Many of us would drink to that. After all, a glass of spirits is not just a quick way to unwind after a stressful day. As a pleasurable part of a good meal, alcohol can also be good for our health, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), at Columbia University, in New York City, estimates that 47 percent of adult American women and 63 percent of adult American men consume alcohol.

Women's enjoyment of drinking is amply reflected in popular culture. In the HBO series Sex and the City, a cosmopolitan was as much a badge of fabulousness as a pair of Manolo Blahniks. A romantic scene in the 2004 hit film Sideways featured not window-fogging sex but a seductive monologue about wine delivered by a woman. The new hit TV show Grey's Anatomy features a trio of sexy female surgical residents who work hard and drink hard, too. "Must have liquor," declared one as the group prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving. The drinking surge among young women has even gotten marketers working overtime creating new "alcopops," sweet alcoholic drinks such as Bacardi Breezers that are pitched specifically to women.

*Individual's name has been changed at her request.

Continued on page 2:  Women's Greater Risk


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