How to help women overcome alcohol addiction

Women now drink as much as men. In fact, they now comprise the fastest-growing population of alcohol users in the US

A study that examined changes in drinking patterns between 2002 and 2013 sponsored by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found substantial increases in women and problematic drinking trends, noting that the frequency of alcohol use disorder (AUD) among women increased 83.7 %. The same study also revealed that high-risk drinking — defined as consuming more than three drinks per day or seven in a week for women — has increased by about 58%.

Read more: How to help employees manage alcohol abuse and get the help they need

In addition, there has been a steep rise in alcohol-related emergency room visits between 2006 and 2014, with women leading the increase.

The pandemic has further elevated the rates of alcohol use among women, including a 41% rise in heavy drinking days, according to a RAND Corporation study. And, additional research has shown that women are susceptible to increasing alcohol use in response to the psychological stresses related to COVID-19.

While the pandemic is likely a driver in the increase in alcohol use among women, there are also other factors fueling this trend:

  • External stressors: Women between the ages of 25 and 34 (the age span that encompasses the highest modern rates of alcohol use) face career-related external pressures, workforce demands and difficulties in transitioning from college to the real world.
  • Continued family expectations: While men are becoming more involved in caregiver roles, women still carry the onus of domestic responsibilities. For example, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that mothers take on a greater share of tasks, including facilitating their children’s education and a number of household responsibilities. This is especially true of women who work remotely.
  • Changing cultural norms and confusing social messages about women and alcohol: Pop culture seems to celebrate women who drink rather than warn against its dangers. Just take a look at some of the advertising that celebrates drinking and targets women. A cultural shift has made it not only more acceptable but also more attractive to drink. And brands are developed and marketed specifically to women, such as Little Black Dress wine and Skinny Girl Vodka, promoted as “a whole new way to cocktail with low-calorie alcoholic drinks.”

Alcohol addiction is directly connected to a multitude of short- and long-term health complications including liver damage, heart disease, brain damage, obesity and breast cancer. It also has a large impact on employers: across the US, employers spend between $33 billion and $68 billion annually as a result of employee alcohol misuse and alcoholism. This includes absenteeism, health complications, on-the-job injuries and other losses in productivity.

Read more: As addiction rates soar, employers can offer a lifeline

Employers are in a unique position to provide their workforce, families and communities with the support necessary to improve the well-being of their workers. While the task is not an easy one, it is vital to protecting the investments they’ve made in their business, brand and employees.

One of the most important things employers can do to be proactive in addressing alcohol misuse and addiction is to educate themselves on the unique risks of their population and determine the best course of action to support their specific employee needs.

Research has shown that combining addiction treatment with therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients with substance use disorders. The most effective of these therapies include:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment, which provides a “whole patient” approach to treating substance use disorders. It combines the use of FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapies.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps those battling addiction address problematic thoughts and feelings. Widely-used in addiction treatment today, CBT teaches recovering addicts how to find connections between their thoughts, feelings and actions, and helps increase awareness of the things that impact recovery.

Online treatment options are critical. Considering that employees today operate out of multiple locations across the country and the globe — including a significant number of remote workers — comprehensive solutions that employ both MAT and CBT can be delivered digitally to best serve the modern distributed workforce. The ideal digital solution is one that combines technology, healthcare and design, and provides programs that are tailored to the individual employee’s specific needs.

Read more: 6 low-cost apps to help employees with drug and alcohol addiction

As women continue to comprise increasing segments of the workforce, employers can play a key role in helping stem the tide of female alcohol use and addiction. The combined burdens of work, home care, childcare, and other family responsibilities, plus attending treatment frequently, can be overwhelming for many women. Successful treatment may need to provide an increased level of support to address these needs. A program that is tailored to the individual will help women manage the specific triggers and issues that are driving their alcohol use.

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