Experts in the Media

Sarah Rusbatch – The Canberra Times

“Grey Area Drinking” Coach | Speaker

Middle-aged women drinking too much has nothing to do with class.

As a middle-aged woman who used to drink too much, I know all too well the slippery slope of emotional dependence on alcohol.

A recent article discussed mid-life women’s drinking habits, placing an emphasis on the differences between classes, but in the work I do as a Grey Area Drinking coach, I see the same problems come up time and time again, and none of them are related to income or class.

So why are middle-aged women drinking more than ever before? From my perspective there’s two reasons and they are emotional and physical.
I recently ran a poll with 11,000 sober or sober-curious women asking why they drank, and the No.1 reason was stress.

Middle-aged women are under more stress than ever before as they juggle demanding careers with raising children, caring for elderly parents, running a household, maintaining friendships, relationships and exercise routines. Their stress levels are at an all-time high, and when 6pm rolls around, alcohol provides a much-needed switch-off.

But what starts as one glass quickly leads to two and before we know it, the entire bottle is gone.

It’s not uncommon for me to work with women who are high-functioning on the outside and drinking close to two bottles a night behind closed doors.

The problem here is that as our tolerance increases over time, we stop getting the same high from just the one glass, and we need more. The more we drink, the more we’re going to drink in one sitting, and that number only ever goes in one direction.

It’s also important that we consider the physical side of alcohol use. When we consume alcohol, we produce more of the stress hormone cortisol in response to our alcohol consumption.

If we’re drinking regularly (not necessarily every night, but a few nights a week), we are steadily increasing the level of cortisol in our bodies. Over time, this causes the baseline of stress and anxiety that we experience to rise, meaning we feel more stressed and anxious even when we’re not drinking.

Then a vicious cycle begins as we use alcohol to counter the stress that the alcohol is causing. In my work, the difference my clients notice first when they stop drinking is a very noticeable drop in anxiety.

We also now also know regular alcohol use changes neuro circuits in the brain, leading to a decreased sense of wellbeing and positivity when not drinking.

Again, this is not about drinking huge amounts, but about drinking consistently – one to two glasses a few nights a week. This reduced sense of wellbeing often leads to an increased desire to drink more, simply in an attempt to return to the baseline of feeling better mentally.

Another vicious cycle when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Sharing this information is, in my opinion, a key factor to supporting individuals to change their drinking habits and consequently reduce their stress and anxiety levels.

When women understand that alcohol causes increased stress and anxiety, they are more likely to choose healthier methods to manage stress, that actually work.

And slowly but surely we can support women to drink less, increasing both their physical and mental wellbeing and leaving them much happier in the process.