Alcohol, tobacco, and other mood-altering drugsChapter 3 By: Cassandra Rogers March 7, 2011
Issues For Women Today, alcohol and other mood altering drugs touch most women’s lives. They can range from light, casual, or prescribed use to problematic or abusive use, to physical and/or emotional dependency; also known as addiction. Women are starting to smoke, drink, an do drugs at earlier ages than ever before. Alcohol and drugs can make women vulnerable; leading them to place their bodies and safety at risk.
Key Definitions Addiction: psychological and physical dependence on a drug. Psychological dependence: a preoccupation with and continual seeking for a substance, in spite of the havoc it has played with one’s life. Physical dependence: occurs when your body becomes used to the presence of a drug, and experiences uncomfortable symptoms (withdrawal) when it is not present in the body. Withdrawal: symptoms can range from the headache often experienced by coffee drinkers who abstain from coffee, to shakiness and anxiety from the absence of alcohol, to irritability and difficulty concentrating from the absence of nicotine, to severe gastrointestinal symptoms from heroin withdrawal. Tolerance: a characteristic of dependence, in which more of the drug is needed to produce the same effect, or the usual amount of drug does not produce as strong an effect as it once did. Dependence & Abuse: terms both used to describe alcohol and drug problems.
Addiction If you become physically or emotionally dependent on nicotine, alcohol, tranquillizers, or cocaine, you are less and less likely to notice when the negative effects are taking their toll or to be able to stop using the substance on your own.
Alcohol Approximately 59% of women in the U.S. drink alcohol, and 6% consume two or more drinks daily (considered heavy drinking for women). Female college students that drink is nearly equal to their male peers (75 to 79%). Ad’s for alcohol are being plastered in popular women magazines targeting the “female market.” Women tend to hide and deny their alcohol abuse rather than seek needed help. Alcoholic women suffer more guilt and anxiety than alcoholic men, have lower self-esteem, and attempt suicide more often. Women with alcohol problems may also use other drugs. Women’s tolerance for alcohol is also less than that of men. Women become intoxicated more quickly than men. Alcohol use diminishes motor coordination, judgment, emotional control, and reasoning powers. It can lead to help problems, and sometimes death.
alcohol Women develop alcoholic liver disease after a comparatively shorter period of heavy drinking than do men, and the death rate of female alcoholics is 50 to 100% higher than that of male alcoholics. Other health risks for women include; hypertension, an increased risk of osteoporosis, stroke, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and certain cancers such as liver and stomach cancer. A woman who drinks and smokes is at higher risk for developing cancers. Women who heavily drink heavily during pregnancy increase their risk of hypertension and premature labor. They may also give birth to babies with abnormalities such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The link between alcohol and breast cancer affects younger as well as older women, but the beneficial effects of alcohol consumption on coronary heart disease appear to affect older women only.
Mood-altering drugs Mood-altering drugs can range from prescription medicines to illegal drugs. Misuse of drugs takes many forms, and it is important that you know all the information about the effects of any drug you use. Today, women receive twice as many prescriptions for psychotherapeutic drugs, more multiple and repeat prescriptions, and more prescriptions for excessive dosages than men. In 1992, an estimated 4.4 million women in the U.S. used illegal drugs. This included 3.1 million who used marijuana; 419,000, cocaine; 98,000, crack; and 88,000, heroin.
Common mood-altering drugs Alcohol Tranquilizers Barbiturates Sedative-hypnotics Opiates Heroin Over-the-counter sleep aids Amphetamines Cocaine/crack Hallucinogens Inhalants Marijuana Antidepressants
Race, class, women, and the enforcement of drug laws Drugs pose serious problems for women, the physiological effects of drugs themselves, associated poor nutrition and lowered resistance to disease, and increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis for women who inject drugs or exchange sex for drugs. Drugs can have a devastating effect on a woman’s sense of self and the ability to take charge of their lives. 70% of women now serving federal prison sentences are in on drug-related charges. Many women imprisoned on drug charges lose custody of their children. The “drug war” has had its highest casualty rate in communities of color.
Getting help It is often difficult to recognize or admit when alcohol and/or drug use has become a problem. Here are some of the main questions you can ask yourself if you think you may have a problem are: Has someone close to you expressed concern about your drinking or drug use? Has your drinking or drug use caused any problems in relationships with family, friends, or co-workers. Do you ever feel guilty or try to conceal your drinking/drug use? *If you answer yes to any of the questions, your drinking or drug use may be interfering with your life in way serious enough for you to seek help.
Self-help groups Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Smart Recovery Women for Sobriety S.O.S. (Secular Organizations for Sobriety) Moderation Management
treatment Formal treatment programs provide medical care, individual and group counseling, and a range of other support services both to “get you off of alcohol and/or drugs” and to help you better understand yourself, learn better coping skills, and create support networks that will enable you to lead a healthy life.
Smoking & exposure to tobacco smoke About 23% of women in the U.S. currently smoke. About 90% of them started smoking before they were 19. Today, many young women are starting to smoke tobacco. 3,000 young people in the U.S. try their first cigarette each day, half of them girls, whose average age of initiation is 14.6 years. Both the short and long-term health consequences of smoking are extremely serious, especially for women. More than 152,000 women die each year of the health consequences of smoking, which include lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Exposure to the cigarette smoke of others is also a serious health hazard. In 1993, secondhand smoke was declared a carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which placed secondhand smoke in a category similar to asbestos and radon.
Quitting for good There are plenty of good reasons to stop smoking. Quitters soon notice increased energy, endurance, self-esteem, and confidence. One of every three women who has ever smoked has now stopped, and since 1976 the percentage of women who smoke has declined from 33 to 25%. Nearly 80% of smokers sat they would like to quit; and 65% have made at least one serious attempt. The ability to quit smoking successfully depends largely on a strong commitment to stop, the belief that you can stop, and support from others. 90% of those who have quit smoking in the U.S. have done it on their own. “There’s a great sense of accomplishment and power that comes from quitting – power to get hold of your own life. I still identify with being a smoker. I still smoke in my dreams. But I won’t do that to myself anymore.” “It’s a great feeling to be able to do so many of the things that were just out of the questions while I was smoking – running around the park, dancing for hours at a time, little things like enjoying the fragrance of my own clean hair. Just knowing that I’m healthier and my kids are probably healthier.”
Discussion Do you think that as women we become addicted to alcohol/drugs more easily than men? Do you believe that the alcohol/drug problem will ever decrease among the female population? Could it be possible that being on too many prescription drugs lead to an illegal drug addiction?
reference Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Our Bodies Ourselves. 35th. New York, NY: Simon & Shuster, 2005.