I lay in a strange bed, in a strange town far from home. I am emotional, in tears. I am tender.
I am detoxing at a treatment centre for women with alcohol use disorder, wondering what the next 30 days are going to look like and if I will come out “cured”.
My memory blurred by blackouts, I lay here trying to source when it was that I lost the grip on my use in my 49 years.
How did I go from having a beer occasionally, to polishing off a bottle of wine in a single sitting?
I am not alone in this. In the last two years, the rate of women drinking heavily has risen 41 per cent, outpacing men. In 2021, that equates to 2.2 million women binging on four or more drinks more than 12 times per year in Canada.
When I ask my female colleagues if alcohol is a part of their life, the common response is, “I couldn’t make it through the week without.”
Their feedback weighs heavy on my heart, as many of these women are in childbearing years. The medical consensus is that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. The effects of alcohol on the fetus can be devastating, causing miscarriage, birth defects, or the irreversible outcome of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.
What a price we pay for the temporary relief alcohol feigns to offer.
I go to the mirror and take stock of my body. The alcohol is showing physical effects. My skin is dry, my belly round and my eyes sunken into dark holes. And this is what I can see.
Women are more likely than men to experience more severe blackouts, liver inflammation, brain atrophy, cognitive deficits, and certain cancers, at a far greater and faster degree. They call it telescoping.
This phenomenon is so severe that in 2018, Canada’s chief public health officer sounded the alarm bells identifying heavy drinking among women as one of the most serious health concerns in our country, noting alcohol-related deaths in women had increased by 26 per cent since 2011.
You certainly don’t hear this information in the media. Instead, influencers and advertisers have been leveraging women’s insecurities and emotions, targeting sales to the vulnerable.
I can speak to this personally. During the pandemic, I have used alcohol as a coping mechanism for loneliness, boredom, dissatisfaction in my relationship, and fear of what the future holds.
This feeling is echoed by the women at the treatment facility.
The $27.8 billion in liquor sales in Canada that generates $10.9 billion in federal government revenue is no compensation for the true cost in people’s lives.
In 2018, Canada had a $3.7-billion deficit due to the $14.6 billion costs in health care, lost wages and justice issues related to alcohol.
We forget however that these numbers are not the bottom line, human life is. The dollar amounts in 2014 equated to 14,800 alcohol-attributable deaths, 87,900 hospital admissions, and 139,000 years of productive life lost in Canada.
Yet here we are today, still free pouring.
This begs me to ask, why does our government not implement programs to curb the increasing use?
This question was answered by Timothy Naimi of the Canadian Institute of Substance Use Research, when he said, “policymakers frame alcohol as positive for the economy.”
So, what does it take, for me and for the countless women across this country to regain control of their lives if the governing powers do not offer the resources?
Managing alcohol use can be challenging to do with willpower alone. Support begins with educating yourself about addiction, employing evidence-based tools, and compassionate conversations. These components are what build a strong foundation to recovery.
The 60 days following the first sentence of this article had me employing this recipe with success. The process to inform myself, reach out for help and use the tools has me clean and sober. I have discovered my life is so much easier without the wine, and my future now looks better than ever.
Jessica Dawe is a second-year student in journalism at Vancouver Island University
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