homepage logo

Guest opinion: Alcohol and the modern woman: We just keep falling in the river

By Camille Heckmann - | May 24, 2024

Courtesy photo

Camille Heckmann

Admit it.

You looked at the piece’s title and decided this doesn’t apply to your life.

Think again.

The broad scope that needs addressing is the inclination to self-medicate. What do you self-medicate with? Copious amounts of soda, sugar, fast food, internet and shopping all have long-term repercussions that are seemingly “harmless” initially.

I’ve heard the adage said several ways, but the sentiment is the same: Standing in a river’s current and waiting to pull victims who fell in as they flail down the rapids will not solve the problem. What will solve the problem is getting out of the river, walking upstream, seeing why people are falling in and preventing the fall from happening.

Women, we need to stop falling in the river.

Anything used to self-medicate becomes substance abuse, a form of addiction. But the one substance I want to address is the misadvertised, craftily packaged, celebrity-endorsed, intelligence-seeking, fun-seeking, life-enhancing, sophisticate-approved alcohol.

Alcohol is by far the most commonly abused substance in this country, with many more addicted to it than opioids, weed, cocaine or any other single drug. Alcohol ruins thousands of lives in the United States every year and does lasting damage to families and communities. What is notable is that over the past four years, there has been an increase in alcohol poisoning cases among women over the age of 35.

A July 6, 2021, article from Psychology Today discusses the concept of “telescoping,” where women progress more rapidly from initial use to dependence and adverse health outcomes compared to men.

“Women with unhealthy alcohol use have higher rates of psychiatric illness, notably mood and anxiety disorders, compared to men. Often psychiatric disorders precede alcohol use, suggesting that alcohol may be serving as a form of ‘treatment’ or self-medication for people with anxiety or depression,” Elora Basu, a fourth-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine, writes. “Women in substance abuse treatment also have higher rates of lifetime physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse and trauma compared to men. Co-occurring alcohol use disorder and psychiatric illness may impede treatment for both conditions.” This accelerated progression has contributed to a rise in severe alcohol-related conditions, including poisoning.

The trend of increased alcohol poisoning and related health issues among women over 35 is driven by factors such as heightened alcohol consumption during the pandemic and a quicker progression to severe health outcomes.

“In the past year, we treated several women in their 30s with advanced liver failure. Some were sent to us by way of a medical referral: To qualify for a liver transplant, they had to get and stay sober. So they came to us,” wrote Lantie Elisabeth Jorandby, M.D., chief medical officer of Lakeview Health, a residential facility in Jacksonville, Florida, that specializes in treating addictive and psychiatric disorders, in an April 2, 2024, article. Dr. Jordanby has been at the forefront of addressing the issue of why women are using alcohol at alarming levels, and the statistics have dramatically risen since 2020.

The long-term effects of 2020, from the lockdowns, quarantining and the looming threat of contracting a then-unknown COVID-19 virus, stressed women in particular at an all-time high. A large portion of children’s homeschooling, keeping a home clean, stocked and maintained, and working remotely fell on the shoulders of already tired mothers. The burden became enormous.

As with so many aspects of our physical and mental health, the COVID-19 epidemic played a part in the increased death rate from excessive alcohol use. As Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers point out, alcohol was more available during the peak COVID-19 years of 2020-2021. Some states implemented policies to expand alcohol carryout and home delivery. In many areas of the country, liquor stores were designated essential businesses and were allowed to stay open during lockdowns.

Why would the U.S. government deem alcohol “essential” during an unprecedented point in world history? It was a quick fix to offer self-medication to an already anxious nation.

Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, which can produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria. This is primarily due to the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins, which are associated with pleasure and reward. One of the most immediate effects of alcohol is the reduction of anxiety. Alcohol has analgesic properties, meaning it can temporarily reduce the sensation of pain. This is one reason why people might drink to alleviate emotional distress. It also alters mood and perception, sometimes creating a sense of detachment from reality or a temporary escape from personal issues. This altered state can appeal to people looking for a break from stress or negative emotions.

The modern woman: she who can have it all, do it all, be it all and still look flawless.

If a woman can’t measure up to the impossible standards set by unrealistic sources, what can she do? Self-medicate to numb the pain of not living up to the expectations of what a modern woman should be, do, have and accomplish.

We could all do ourselves a favor and say, “Enough.” Who you are is enough. What you can provide is enough. How and where you live is enough. How you parent is enough. Stop attempting to live up to overly glossed standards of beauty and accomplishment that are forced upon us through prolific media campaigns and influencers. Enough.

Rather than allowing your friends, family or even yourself to keep falling into the river, offer the help available.

Camille Heckmann writes about her observations of the human condition. She can be found on Substack: @camilleheckmann.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation and to improve the lives of individuals living with mental and substance use disorders, and their families. Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people who come together to solve their drinking problem. Attending A.A. meetings costs nothing. Participating requires no age or education. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about their drinking problem.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year information service in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations. https://www.samhsa.gov/

To locate a local meeting near you, Alcoholics Anonymous has a website and low-cost literature available for purchase. https://www.aa.org/


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)