Women and Drinking and Prescription Pill Abuse – Now Called Epidemics
I know that no one is immune from having their social drinking escalate until it becomes a problem. But sometimes I’m still surprised when it happens. A friend let me know that Elizabeth Vargas, a beloved newscaster on the east coast, is in rehab for alcohol addiction.
I’ve followed Elizabeth on ABC-TV for years. She’s bright, poised and engaging, the girl next door and the smartest girl in the class all rolled into one. And like other TV celebrities have done, she personalized the announcement of entering rehab in the hope of helping others. As I’ve said before, TV personalities who show that addiction hits all levels of society perform a huge public service, one that is sorely needed with the current increase in the number of women drinking.
You may have seen reviews for, or articles (or ads) about Ann Dowsett Johnson’s new book“Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.” In an article in The New York Post, the Canadian writer and recovering alcoholic said that today more women are drinking in the developing world and in well-to-do countries than ever before. Her website says she wrote a 14-part series on Women and Alcohol that appeared in The Toronto Star and that she’s “a respected advocate in public policy matters.” So when she sounds the alarm on women’s drinking around the world, she’s not just someone who is sensationalizing a topic just to sell her book.
If anyone needs to hear it from another (more prestigious?) source than the NY Post, National Public Radio is speaking out as well. That organization also interviewed Johnson, and reported that “In the U.S. and Western Europe, growing numbers of women struggle with alcoholism; in some places, women’s rates of alcohol abuse have achieved parity with men’s.” One of the reasons cited is that women feel they’re “entitled” to have a few drinks at the end of a hard day.
The picture is also bleak regarding women and prescription pill abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that in the 11 years between 19999 and 2010, nearly 48,000 women died of overdoses from prescription painkillers. During the same period, men’s deaths increased 265%, compared to the 400% increase in women’s deaths.
The New York Times editorial board weighed in after the CDC report, as I’m sure many other media outlets did. In July the paper published an article with this information: “More women now die of overdoses from pain pills like OxyContin than from cervical cancer or homicide.” Also, more white women are dying than black women, and more older women than younger ones.
The editorial cited these reasons for the problem: Women suffer from more chronic pain, are on painkillers for longer periods, and are more apt to doctor shop (I wonder why). As with alcohol, their smaller body mass means they’re more affected by the amount they take, or as the paper says, “the gap between a therapeutic dose and a fatal dose is narrower.”
The board’s recommendations? Doctors need to prescribe more carefully and educate patients about the risks when they prescribe painkillers, and states need to do better at identifying doctors who overprescribe and patients who overuse.