Women and alcohol: Why ‘no shame no blame’ is essential to recovery

Today sees the launch of the Women’s Independent Alcohol Support helpline which author of Women and alcohol: Social perspectives Patsy Staddon has been instrumental in setting up. In today’s guest post Staddon shares insights from both her research and experience on the complexities of  alcoholism and why it needs to be better understood as a social issue, not a personal failure.

Patsy’s book, Women and alcohol: Social perspectives is on offer until the end of January for just £9.99  (RRP £24.99).

Patsy blogI have never been an ivory tower academic—I gained my doctorate in 2009 at the age of 65 so it’s not surprising that most of my life, whether in the period it was governed by alcohol (from the mid-‘seventies to November 1988) or while I have been researching and practising alternative approaches for women with alcohol issues, has centred on what could be called fieldwork.

As soon as Women and alcohol: social perspectives had been completed I was back out in Bristol, as chair and co-ordinator for Women’s Independent Alcohol Support (WIAS), advertising and running alternative groups for women with alcohol issues and (as of January 20th 2016) a weekly helpline—0117-9428077.

Helpline launch

This January seems to be a particularly apt time to launch such a helpline: not only are many people attempting (and perhaps failing?) to keep to a ‘dry January’, but the government chose this month to launch new guidelines, recommending that both women and men should limit their alcohol use to 14 units a week, and stating in addition that there was NO completely ‘safe’ level of alcohol use, as only a small amount increased the risk of cancer and other health conditions.

This increased risk (for moderate alcohol use) does, however, appear to be very small.

“…‘alcoholism’ is a social issue, rather than a personal failure…”

One of the things we hope to do is to counter some of the more hysterical media reports. The WIAS ‘telephone team’ possesses experience and professional expertise in the areas of alcohol recovery itself, mental health, domestic abuse and physical abuse, and has also received training from SISH (Self-Injury Self-Help), a national organisation based in Bristol.

We are taking forward in practice the ideals embedded in the book: ‘alcoholism’ is a social issue, rather than a personal failure. It is a consequence of social disasters at least as much as a cause of them. It is certainly not inevitably permanent, but can be managed and ultimately overcome.

The book cites much academic evidence for this, while acknowledging that it runs counter to public ‘knowledge’, which is fostered by traditional views about ‘alcoholism’ as a chronic and lifelong disease. Such a view is slowly being reconsidered and reviewed across the treatment services, but like most change it moves slowly.

Why women ?

Meanwhile women and other groups more vulnerable to loss of prestige, such as the elderly and the disabled, are only too likely to conceal a need to drink to excess, to avoid mentioning it to doctors, and to rely on the media for information—not a source which appears itself to be particularly sensitive to changes in how alcohol use is understood within a social context.

“[Women] seem harder to forgive and easier to forget than the male of the species…”

It would for example be of immense help if more worthy organs of information, such as the Guardian, refrained from referring to someone as ‘an alcoholic’, any more than they would choose to call someone ‘a schizophrenic’. People use alcohol excessively for very many reasons, and often for relatively limited periods, in response to various life crises, and there may be as many roads to recovery as there are people wishing to recover.

At WIAS we are sometimes asked ‘why women’ particularly? As is described in more detail in the book, our society has particular expectations of women, such as being an icon of respectability, while at the same time being expected to be physically attractive, even sexy, and of course to be the family anchor.

These expectations are likely to be disappointed if a woman is drunk, and the social penalties may be severe, including potentially the loss of children and indeed one’s whole family. We seem to be harder to forgive and easier to forget than the male of the species.

‘no blame, no shame’

Working together, as both peers and experts, we hope we can help women regain self-confidence and a sense of self worth—to place the ‘blame’ where it lies, with unrealistic expectations and an unequal social structure. One of the consequences of this inequality is a high prevalence of sexual abuse and domestic violence perpetrated against women (most often by men).

Our motto is ‘no blame, no shame’, and we work both within and outside official channels to help women both in our small groups and on our helpline. We also campaign, speaking at events and seeking particularly to influence GPs, a woman’s most likely first port of call.

Once professionals are helping women to address their issues, rather than ‘treating’ the presenting symptom of alcohol misuse, we believe there will be real change in the numbers of women who stop or reduce their drinking and begin to live more fulfilling (and healthy) life.

#DryJanuary

If you’re interested in finding out more about Women’s Independent Alcohol Support check out their website wiaswomen.org.uk and you can also contact them via email contact@wiaswomen.org.uk and of course telephone: 0117-9428077

Women and alcohol [FC]Women and alcohol: Social perspectives is available to purchase here . It is on special offer until the end of January for only £9.99  (RRP £24.99). 

Dr. Patsy Staddon recovered from over 20 years of alcohol dependency 26 years ago and returned to university to study women’s alcohol use from a sociological perspective. She has written and published about the barriers to women’s recovery, such as shame and marginalisation. She is active in the mental health research field and founded the Alcohol Study Group of the British Sociological Association and the Women’s Independent Alcohol Support (WIAS) organisation.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

If you liked this blog you might also be interested in…

5 free articles on the impact of alcohol 

And these books:

Alcohol and moral regulation [FC]Alcohol and moral regulation: Public attitudes, spirited measures and Victorian hangovers by Henry Yeomans

Governing health and consumption [FC]Governing health and consumption: Sensible citizens, behaviour and the city by Clare Herrick

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