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10May

Psychodynamic Counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Many women tell me almost jokingly, that they now only have time to binge.

The truth is, as shown by a recent study, women from managerial or professional backgrounds are 19 per cent more likely to drink heavily at home, compared with women from working-class households.

Middle-class women are increasingly using alcohol to counteract dissatisfaction with their lives

And, more worryingly, as many as 50,000 women sought NHS treatment for alcohol problems between 2008 and 2009. Up to date figures are elusive.

Some time ago, it was revealed that professional women secretly battling alcoholism are heading to Eastern Europe for treatment rather than facing the stigma of seeking help here. It begs the question, who or what has created this dreadful Taboo??

So why are we all drinking so much? Like I used to, most of my friends work full-time so they’re juggling jobs, children, husband and home. A chilled glass of white at the end of the day is the perfect antidote to our stressful lifestyles – or so we believe.

Alcohol is also the social oil that dissolves our inhibitions and makes even the shyest able to function, open up and when needed, schmooze.

There is now a bit of an old joke ( more than a little grim) that had we ever been sober when a man made a pass at us, we would still be virgins.

One of my client’s even admits to being drunk from the first kiss to long after her honeymoon. And we wonder why so many of our generation’s marriages are on the rocks!

Yet there is a more worrying explanation – from what I can see, middle-class women are increasingly using alcohol to counteract dissatisfaction with their lives.

Though several of my friends are genuinely happy, the majority – including me – have arrived in middle age to find we’re not quite where we imagined we’d be.

Long gone are the certainties of our mothers’ generation: marriage and motherhood. Baby boomers were told we could have it all – career and babies. Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that.

Some of us did not achieve the professional success we had hoped for when marriage and babies came along and then found it was impossible to battle our way back into the workplace.

Others woke up one morning and realised they’d left it too late to have a child. Some have tried coping with both and are barely coming up for air.

Then there’s the increase in divorce rates and the aftermath of difficult break-ups. New relationships become elusive because men our age seem to prefer to date younger women. We are invisible – and that applies to work as well as our personal lives.

It’s not easy to refuse. If you don’t like drinking or can’t drink, it’s hard enough; but if you do like it, it’s almost impossible not to drink without hiding away.

By the time we’ve reached our mid-40s, we have realised that the world is primarily the domain of the young. Some clients drink to forget for a few hours that they are no longer invincible, pretty young girls.

Yet in the morning  hangovers make middle aged women feel like sad old lushes – and every fresh-faced girl who walks past makes us feel still worse.

Of course they vow to stop, but they don’t. It’s a vicious cycle and one that an awful lot of them are caught up in.

When they do try to go on the wagon, it’s pretty difficult to stay on it. Women tell me of the disappointment they feel when for whatever reason one night is going to be alcohol free.

One of my moderate drinking friends once said to me, ‘If I was an addict, I’d much rather be on heroin than an alcoholic. At least you’d have a chance of giving up, but alcohol is all around us. It’s everywhere.’ A quote from the Lancet compounds this, that alcohol is more dangerous than Heroin or Crack.

Anyone who associates the term ‘drunk’ with football hooligans or girls in white stilettos and bare legs vomiting into the gutter after a Saturday night out on the town has clearly never been to a summer party in a marquee, a charity auction, fundraising ball, book launch, after-conference party, lunch at a country house, Glyndebourne picnic, corporate box at the races or even dinner at almost any middle- class house in Harrogate and towns like it.

Many women enjoy a drink after work, but some just cannot to stop. Their on/off button has become faulty.

Yet despite its well-advertised hazards, alcohol remains the fulcrum of middle-class social life.

It would be considered churlish not to offer a visitor a drink, and if you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, it is normal to arrive with a bottle of wine. We drink when we go out for the evening, almost always at dinner and sometimes at lunch. Try as we might, someone somewhere will always be pressing a drink into our hand.

It’s not easy to refuse. If you don’t like drinking, it’s hard enough; but if you do like it, it’s almost impossible not to drink without hiding away.

‘It’s my birthday!’ ‘I’ve got a new job!’ ‘I’m engaged!’ ‘We haven’t seen each other for too long!’ I’ve heard them all and these excuses lead in one direction only – let’s open that bottle of wine.

And if you want evidence of the effects of sustained binge-drinking on the body, look no further than these facts. Shockingly, two women friends died in their 40s from alcohol related liver diseases and three more are close to death for the same reason.

In 2010, a report – Statistics On Alcohol: England 2010, compiled by the NHS – said more than ten million people are drinking at hazardous levels and that one in four adults who drink is putting their health at risk. Dodgy stats, as many will never admit to drinking excessively.

In 2008, there were 6,769 drink-related deaths – an increase of almost a quarter since 2001.

Last year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that one in six women over 16 drinks more than double the recommended daily amount of two to three units (about one-andahalf glasses of wine) and that binge-drinking among women has almost doubled in recent years.

The NHS report also found that those aged between 45 and 64 admitted to having drunk alcohol on five or more days in the previous week.

Partly, I blame wine – it is the chosen drink of women because it’s easier to drink than beer and spirits and has made drinking socially acceptable.

My parents’ generation drank beer or spirits. We really began drinking wine as a nation when the Australians flooded the market with affordable Chardonnay in the Eighties. The NHS report shows that wine sales are up more than 50 per cent since 1992.

A bottle of cheap whisky or vodka is sleazy, but knowing how to buy a good bottle of wine for a fair price is a passport to middle-class life. Not knowing about wine is seen as a social handicap.

A woman can order a glass of wine without looking like a problem drinker. A man can demonstrate his social sophistication by ordering a good bottle of Sancerre.

Of course, blaming the grape alone would be facetious. The dramatic change in our lifestyles must also play a part.

We have become a nebulous society. We don’t eat at regular times. We watch too much TV. We don’t have the reassuringly rigid timetables of the past and modern technology enables us to be even more fluid.

Many of us work from home so are faced with having to motivate ourselves. It’s no surprise a drink is often at hand.

The problem is that denial is endemic to alcoholism. We all know the dangers and, ironically, drink to stop worrying about them.

  

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