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Women in recovery

Artwork by Sadie Solagnier.

Women Alcoholics have many odds stacked against them. Physically alcohol affects them differently than it does men and society judges women more harshly than it does a man. Worst of all, men in AA generally do not treat alcoholic women as they would treat their own.

Physical issues

Women Alcoholics face greater risks to their health than their male counterparts. Alcohol increases a woman’s risk of developing serious illnesses such as:

an increased risk of heart disease,
liver disease,
reproductive problems,
memory loss.
These are just a few.

The effects of alcohol on the liver are more severe for women than for men. Women develop alcoholic liver disease, particularly alcoholic cirrhosis and hepatitis, after a shorter period of time than men. Proportionately more alcoholic women die from cirrhosis than do alcoholic men. In the “late stages” of alcoholism women develop hypertension, anemia, and malnutrition much quicker than alcoholic men, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that a woman’s risk of breast cancer rises with the amount of alcohol regularly consumed. Stopping drinking can reduce the chance of getting breast cancer. The study showed that women who drink two to five alcoholic drinks each day, were 41 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than nondrinkers. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases the risk of several digestive-tract cancers.

Alcohol also causes reproductive problems. The alcohol in the blood is carried into the baby’s bloodstream. Because the baby is still developing, consuming alcohol can lead to a miscarriage. It can also lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects birth defects, which are irreversible.

Health risk are even greater for the older women. Women are more likely than men to start drinking heavily later in life, and many times their alcohol abuse goes undiagnosed.

Stigma on women alcoholics

Dealing with addiction is hard, more so for a woman than a man. Society judges women more harshly than they would a man. Women are often stereotyped as promiscuous, slovenly, and immoral. Worse when there are children involved, women are considered bad and neglectful mothers.

A.A. approved text in the book “Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers” tells us how it was in the beginning:

However, Dr. Bob showed somewhat less assurance upon first confronting the most troublesome and, in some ways, the most unwelcome minority in A.A.’s olden days – women!

We have already seen some examples of his dismay at the thought of a woman’s coming into the Akron group. “He didn’t know how to handle them,” said Smitty. Others said Dr. Bob felt that the program would not work for women. Just the same, he tried to help several.

Bill recalled “explosions” that took place around the “out-of-bounds romance” and the arrival of alcoholic women at meetings. “Whole groups got into uproars, and a number of people got drunk,” he said. “We trembled for A.A.’s reputation and for its survival.”

Women alcoholics had to overcome a double standard that was even more rigid in the 1930’s than it is today – the notion that nice women didn’t drink to excess. This made it difficult for a woman to admit to the problem in the first place, to say nothing of being accepted in A.A.

Being a drunk is bad enough. Sadly enough many cultures make being a female drunk is doubly shameful even in this day and age. Over the last decades some steps were made forward and some backwards. Generally it is agreed that women are accepted better and more fairly by A.A. than before but there is still much room for improvement.

These are some passages of an article written as recently as February 2013:

Your mother, sister or daughter could be a closet drinker. You probably know it, perhaps consider it a dirty family secret and have run out of ways to camouflage the signs. It could be a matter of time before she’s alcohol-dependent, and you’ll either leave her to fate or seek a way out.

What holds Indian women back from coming out of the liquor closet is the shame of being identified as alcoholic and, by extension, disreputable-harpies who transgress social codes and defile the righteous image of Indian womanhood.

“It is very challenging to get women out,” says Rameela, a recovering alcoholic whose mission to help other women alcoholics led her to join the General Service Office (GSO) of AA India.

(Taken from “Alcoholism in women on the rise, but few seek help”, The Times of India, Mumbai)

It is still harder for a woman to seek recovery. Not only so in India but unfortunately enough in many, many cultures worldwide. For those who do seek recovery, its not always easy, even in recovery women to this day are being preyed upon.

It is noteworthy to mention that online recovery groups, which offer a different dimension to anonymity, are frequented more by women than by men.

Predators in A.A.

Predators are those who take advantage of others. Predators are existent in face to face venues as well as in online venues and seek to victimize for many reasons. Sexual harassment and sexual attacks are two of these reasons and are generally, though not exclusively, committed by male predators against female victims. Women, in many cases, have no other recourse than to organize special “Women’s Meetings” or seek women-only groups.

This article is not written for the eyes of women only. In fact, it is the intention of this writer to bring some attention with regards to our gender issues, specifically towards the men in A.A. If you have reached this far in reading the article it means that you care about this issue and are concerned. A.A. groups in general and men in particular can contribute their efforts in creating a safer environment for the alcoholic woman who so desperately needs help to get out of their hell-on-earth, a place many of us have been able to flee from thanks to unconditional love we have received from fellow members.

The GSO in Australia has issued some suggested practices which can be useful to groups around the world and online. These include:

Talking about the issue in the group and at group conscience meetings. An informed membership and group conscience creates much needed awareness which can make it more difficult for the predator to function.
Take courage to address the matter directly with the suspected predator. Make the predator aware that the behaviour is unacceptable, that he (or she) has been observed and that under no circumstances a continued deviant behaviour will be tolerated.
Avoid opportunities for possible predators to be alone with their victims. Encourage as much as possible for discussions to take place in a larger setting.
Don’t avoid talking about this with members of other groups as the predator might move from one group to the next.
Having heard a few horror stories of 13 stepping in A.A. it is understandable that some meetings and groups are segregated. This, however, does not alleviate the problem nor does it address the issue. The Internet over the years has provided a safer haven for women to be open about their addictions but even online we can still find the janitor pretending to be a minister in order to sponsor the new comer woman eventually exchanging personal information and pictures. Other men, aware of these tactics are equally at fault if they allow this to happen without their intervention. Turning a blind eye is unacceptable.

If all of us can do our part we can move our fellowship forward and bring much needed help to women alcoholics that today may be reluctant to seek help and those that have fallen victim to predators and don’t want to return. All members of the fellowship, men and women, should help raise awareness about these issues. The better informed the group and the individual member is with regards to these bottlenecks the sooner we can expect to move beyond them.

“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?”
― Mahatma Gandhi



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