A report was published on Friday which highlighted that death rates from alcohol are rising worryingly steeply in one group of the population – women aged between 33 and 43. This is against the trend for all older age groups, and for men. There is a link to the report at the bottom of this post.
The authors, Deborah Shipton, Bruce Whyte and David Walsh, put the increase down to “historical factors”. What are those historical factors? Well, let’s think about these women. They were born between 1970 and 1979. They would have started drinking at some point around 1988 to 1997, and if their drinking followed a normal pattern, they would have drunk more heavily in their late teens, early twenties, then the amount they were drinking would gradually have decreased as they got older. What was going on at that time? It was the rise of what has been dubbed “the ladette culture”, when women with increasing independence and disposable income began to challenge the stereotype of the woman staying at home, and became much more visible in bars, clubs and pubs, where they were drinking and partying alongside men. As a feminist I would say a jolly good thing too. However, for some (and it’s a small minority, even if it’s increased somewhat) it seems there was a price to pay. For some, those early heavy drinking days didn’t diminish. Alcohol consumption continued at dangerous levels, even increased as tolerance to alcohol built up, and the harm caused by that consumption developed over the years. Here’s the thing. Women suffer greater physical harms at much lower levels of consumption, particularly with respect to liver problems and mental health issues. Both of these were highlighted as major causes of alcohol-related deaths of women in this report.
The difficulty for me is that I celebrate the rights of women to do what they want to do and behave how they want to behave. I celebrate the freedom and the independence which have created a situation where women can party long and hard if that’s what they choose to do. But I can’t celebrate a tragic waste of life. It’s another paradox about alcohol I can’t quite square with myself.
I did some tv and radio interviews on the report, and tried to articulate some of this, but it’s difficult. I was misquoted and mis-attributed in a subsequent newspaper report, based on something I’d said (or not said) on the radio. The newspaper even said I’d authored the report, which I didn’t. There are so many messages to get out into the world about alcohol and addiction, but when they are so ambiguous, how do you communicate them?
Read the report for yourself and make up your own mind on this one.