The annual report from Canada’s chief public health officer is out, and this year it focuses squarely on alcohol consumption among Canadians.
In his annual report message the Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Gregory Taylor says that Canadians handle alcohol more like a food, when in fact it’s a mind-altering drug.
And if there’s one message he wants to get across in his annual report, it’s that alcohol is not harmless.
Drinking is risky business for women
That’s especially true for people who practice risky drinking behaviors, such as women.
According to the report, risky drinking is on the rise among women, especially women 35 and older.
Not only that, binge drinking has increased among women 15 and older.
“In 2013, 56 per cent of women aged 15 years and older reported binge drinking (four drinks or more in one sitting) at least once in the previous year compared to 44 per cent in 2004.”
Why are women drinking so much?
Ann Dowset-Johnston is the author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women and Alcohol. A former journalist, she has put extensive research into the relationship between women and alcohol.
She says she’s identified three main reasons why risky drinking is increasing among women.
“Sometime in the mid-199s the spirits industry decided they were losing out to beer and invented the alco-pop, and really aculturated a young generation of women to drink hard liquor. So, you know they start with the alco-pop and then they switch to vodka or tequila or do shots, and that has become very popular.”
Dowsett-Johnston calls it the “pinking of the market”, she points to girls night out wine, skinny girl cocktails, and mommy-juice as examples of marketing the culture of drinking directly to women.
“I think it’s become the modern women’s steroid, you race home from a busy job, you have homework to oversee, you’re making an evening meal and it’s easier to pour a glass of wine that it is to find time to go to yoga class or unwind in another way.”
3. Alcohol is a way to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, and larger issues.
She says it’s become a go-to for an entire generation, and it’s catching up.
“And we know there are health implications now. We used to think it was just liver disease and drunk driving, but let’s just take the breast cancer indicator, which is that 15 per cent of breast cancer case are attributable to alcohol consumption.”
Breast cancer connection
According to the report, recent research shows that one drink per day may increase the risk for breast cancer in women, and the more you drink, the more you increase your risk for breast cancer.
Yet Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines advise women to drink no more than 10 drinks a week, and no more than 2 drinks a day at most.
So how many drinks are safe?
“There is no safe number. I really advise women “know your history”. If you’ve a female relative – a mother, a grandmother – who’s had breast cancer, you should be aware of these figures.”
Dowsett-Johnston says that the guideline is not a recommendation to consume alcohol, it simply lists the maximum safe consumption levels for men and women, as well as tips to avoid risky drinking, such as planning alcohol-free days and taking breaks.
What are the risks to women?
“As a population, women are less at risk for negative impacts from alcohol because they tend to drink less than men. As individuals, women are more at risk for harm from alcohol due to biological and social factors.” (report)
“Democratically we’re equal, but metabolically and hormonally we aren’t when it comes to alcohol.We become addicted much faster, it’s not just body size, it’s chemistry. We get liver disease much faster and we have cognitive decline much faster with alcohol consumption.”
She says we need to be aware of the effects, because we also put ourselves at risk for sexual assault and rape.
“And even worse, if we are sexually assaulted we may be too embarrassed or too ashamed to tell anybody, and (then) drink to numb the pain. And there’s a huge connection with trauma.”
The report mirrors that concern, stating that women can be more vulnerable to sexual assault or other violence when drinking beyond their capacity.
Dowsett-Johnston says its important to support young women in understanding the dangers of alcohol.
“So many young women say they drink to feel socially accepted, to deal with social anxiety, and it’s a dangerous sport. I think more than anything, what I would like to see is just pay it some respect. It is a hugely effective and risky drug. We don’t tend to think of it as a drug, and we need to.”