Why do women drink themselves to death? Twice as many do, compared to 15 years ago. They vomit alone in their bathrooms, throwing up their self-disgust. In 1991, 7.2 women aged 35-54 per 100,000 died of alcohol-related diseases; today it is 14.8. Some will die of cirrhosis of the liver, or of the drugs they take when they are drunk. Some will die in alcohol-related accidents and some of despair - they will simply kill themselves. The question is, why are more women becoming alcoholics today?
As a recovering alcoholic, I know why I tried to drink myself to death. I was lonely and angry, and I felt worthless. I started drinking when I was 13, a middle-class teenager from the most suburban of suburbs, who came home from school for a quick nip of vodka from an old blue mug. Alcohol was a lover who changed my feelings - I became less angry, and less lonely. Then he swallowed me back, and took everything. By the time that I knew I was an alcoholic, it seemed too late to do anything about it. I washed up in AA at 27, with everything broken.
Nobody knows exactly what causes alcoholism. I believe it is genetic, but triggered by trauma. A person born with an inbred disposition to alcoholism may never develop it if they grow up in a healthy and stable environment. All the recovering alcoholics I know say the same thing - they felt different, even as children. They didn't feel safe.
Alcoholism has little to do with alcohol, just as bulimia has nothing to do with food; it is a disease of the soul, a system of self-harming thought, which the alcoholic treats with alcohol. The drinking is merely the final, fatal symptom. And what matters for binge-drinking girls is this - not everyone who drinks heavily will develop alcoholism. But to develop alcoholism you have to drink heavily. You have to put the hours in at the pub.
The modern childhood is a kindergarten for alcoholics. All the external criteria are in place to ease the maybe-baby alcoholic into full-blown unto-the-gates-of-hell drunk. Alcohol has never been so cheap. The supermarkets and the happy hours and the clubs can't stuff it down our throats cheaply enough or fast enough or long enough; some supermarkets sell it at less than cost, to draw the shoppers in. They don't treat it as a dangerous drug, but as a commodity that is great for business. The more units they sell, the more alcoholics there will be. And the more alcoholics there are, the more units they will sell. Sainsbury's is now selling cider, the drink of choice for 13-year-olds, for 26 pence a pint.
There are wonderful new ways to make young women feel worthless. Sparkling advertisements and whispering editorials encourage them to aspire to an ever-receding fantasy. You can never be beautiful or thin enough for the fashion magazines of 2008. You can never be sexy enough for MTV, or pornography. You can never be famous enough for Heat. The message is clear and simple and lucrative - be someone else. And that is the tiny voice inside every alcoholic's head.
But now it is a shriek from a billboard, and young women respond with bulimia and anorexia and compulsive eating and chronic debt - and booze. If Cinderella were rewritten for the 21st century, the prince would say: "Have your pubic hair waxed off. And starve down to size zero. Perhaps some breast implants? Don't you feel like a better woman now, Cinders?"
Alcoholism is a disease of unreality, and of fantasy. That is why so few recover - you cannot see the gutter to crawl out. The alcoholic lies to herself on a daily basis. And when society lies too - be Britney Spears! Be Posh Spice! You too can be thin and happy! - more will fall. Alcoholism used to be called a "family disease", in which every family member played a part. The alcoholic was the bad child, the mother or father the caretaker or abuser, the sibling the good child. Now it has become a social disease, and there are "bad children" everywhere.
And how do we respond to this burgeoning mental illness in young women? We treat it with a disgust that will send the alcoholic spiralling ever downwards, or as a comedy, which is almost worse. We watch Britney Spears shaving her hair off and running around Los Angeles, half-dressed or strapped to a stretcher, and wait for her to die. We watch Amy Winehouse crawling on the ground towards her front door. We mouth "Isn't it terrible?" with a terrible smile and what we really think is, What is the end of the story? Will Princess Britney, the most Googled woman on the planet, be buried in a pink coffin with a Disney Channel logo, before the credits roll? Will Amy pay for her talent with her life, and be immortalised in death, Janis Joplin part two?
Denial is the best friend of alcoholism - and now we all collude. These women are punching themselves in the face, and dying, not dancing, in the streets. And that's entertainment. As for what's really going on inside her - who cares?
author: Tanya Gold, firstname.lastname@example.org
source: The Guardian