Rise in drinking among middle-aged women causing concern in the medical community

Binge drinking is on the rise among middle-aged women.  

Australian research has revealed one in five women aged between 40 and 65 is a binge drinker and some even feel naked without alcohol.

 Lotta Dann is an author, wife, mum of three and a former alcoholic.

 She's just turned 50 and has marked 10 years sober. 

"The worst thing of all was just the guilt. Waking up, every morning, feeling bad about how much I'd had to drink, feeling like I was weak and out of control and just pretty awful about myself on the inside, the impacts are pretty damaging," Dann told Newshub. 

"We live in an alcohol culture and life is tough. Why wouldn't you drink when it's sitting in the supermarket, cheap as chips and being pushed everywhere, as the perfect solution to your problems."

Dann now runs a living sober website helping other Kiwis who struggle with booze.

 Membership is sky-rocketing and she's hearing a lot from middle-aged mums.

"The stories are the same. I'm not controlling my drinking, I'm feeling bad about my alcohol intake, I'm worried about my drinking, but I'm terrified to quit. 

"I'm terrified to live in this world where everyone wants to have a drink all the time to bond and relax and celebrate. How am I going to live if I don't do that? It's scary." 

 A new study published in the Australian Drug and Alcohol Review journal shows about 21 percent of women aged between 45 and 60 are now drinking at "binge-drinking" levels. That's at least four standard drinks in one sitting.

That's nearly double the problem it was 20 years ago.

Dr Cassandra Wright says in most groups alcohol use is going down. In this particular alcohol group, it's going up.

 A New Zealand report is due out in a few weeks.

 So why are middle-aged women drinking so much? When did one glass of wine a night become say, a bottle a night? 

Researchers put it down to an increase in stress and lockdown. Women are working, running a home and home-schooling kids. There are more responsibilities and burdens.

"Part of this story is about freedoms really but part of it is about coping and stress and we do know that especially in the pandemic that women have taken on a disproportionate burden, says Dr Wright. 

But doctors have a warning and it's serious.

Dr Bryan Betty says binge drinking can have a number of effects. 

"They can be unintentional such as accidents, car crashes, hospital admissions due to falls.  It can have an effect on mental health with worsening of depression and anxiety over time and there are long term effects on heart disease, stroke and cancer risks. which is interesting." 

Alcohol is linked to more than 200 diseases and injury conditions.

And men aren't off the hook here, they still drink, and a lot but women experience alcohol harms more quickly and at lower levels of consumption.

But giving up booze - or cutting back - isn't easy.

Pregnant mum Claire Robbie is an Auckland yoga and meditation teacher. 

She used to be the classic Kiwi binge drinker but after one too many hangovers gave up the booze for good. 

"I found it really tricky and go out and not drink at first, I really had to relearn how to be in social situations," Robbie told Newshub. 

"I never considered myself an alcoholic or someone dependent on alcohol but it became very clear, very quickly that I had used it in many different ways."

She's set up No Beers, Who Cares, a social movement where events now attract up to 200 sober drinkers.

"All it took was for someone to talk openly about their struggles with it and normalise it and people go "hold on that's me too" and humans need that connection and understanding that we are the same."

Like Claire, Lotta Dann is now a dedicated tea drinker, teetotaller with an open invite to her tea party.

"We just really support the people who come in and we say I promise you, it is possible to live without it, you are not alone, a lot of struggle, a lot of us feel bad but look at us now, we are sober and we are happy," Dann says.