Women are drinking more, but you’re missing the point

A brief response to the media frenzy

A media storm has erupted over a recent study that found women’s drinking habits are catching up to men. This is being presented as a paradigm shift in the way we perceive alcohol use.

But these findings aren’t surprising. In fact, our data at Hello Sunday Morning has supported these findings for some time now.

Taking a random sample of 8,700 members from our online alcohol support community, we know that women are slightly more likely than men to be high-risk drinkers.

Although this finding is significant, what it means in reality is more complex. For instance, men are still more likely than women to be at risk of alcohol dependency. The differences between high risk drinking and alcohol dependency are considerable — essentially the difference between a weekend binge and a (potentially) crippling cycle of craving and addiction. While this obviously doesn’t mean that high-risk drinking goes without harm, it does have implications for the way we provide support to those looking to change their drinking behaviour.

Generally, men are more likely than women to seek face-to-face help to change the way they drink. This actually makes sense, considering that face-to-face models of support are typically structured to help dependent drinkers, which men are still, statistically, more likely to be. On the other hand, we know that the majority of our community members (almost 65 per cent) are female, suggesting that women are more likely to seek online support to change their drinking habits.

Why is this interesting? First, as our data suggests, women are more likely to be high-risk drinkers who require a different type of support than that traditionally provided to people who are dependent on alcohol, and online support is proving to be highly effective here.

This is due to a number of factors, but one clear reason is that women often find it harder to access help due to gendered cultural constraints — such as having children and wage gaps. They are less likely to pay for face-to-face support and treatment due to these overarching barriers.

One clear reason is that women often find it harder to access help due to gendered cultural constraints — such as having children and wage gaps.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from this study is that we are all drinking at high-risk levels. We need far greater understanding of alcohol as a culture, and we need to prioritise all-inclusive, decentralised support, rather than vilifying a subset of our population. Women are drinking at risky levels and we need to understand that the help they seek is not the same as that which is traditionally available. We need to shift the focus from simply talking about the numbers to talking about the solutions. More often than not, high-risk drinkers want to change their relationship with alcohol — but just don’t know how.

And one last thing: why, oh why, did almost all of this coverage have to be produced by men?

Hello Sunday Morning is a movement towards a better drinking culture. Our vision is a world where drinking is an individual choice, not a cultural expectation. How do you feel about your relationship with alcohol?
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