Women, alcohol abuse and four skills for recovery

A recent study that showed even moderate alcohol consumption can take years off your life not only attracted a lot of media attention, it also caused other studies about drinking to seem even more worrisome, especially with their findings about women.

We aren’t talking about harmless social sipping with friends here, and as the nation observes Women’s Health Care Month in May, it’s worth exploring the growing negative role that alcohol plays in the lives of American women.

“My favorite line of all time is: ‘I don’t drink that much,’” said Dr. Soroya Bacchus (soroyabacchusmd.com), a psychiatrist and author of How to Detox Yourself from Alcohol.

“Sometimes the people who say this are right; they really don’t drink that much. More often though, people say this to make themselves feel better about how much they do drink.”

Just last year, a study published by JAMA Psychiatry reported that more Americans are drinking high amounts of alcohol, and some of the greatest increases are among women.

In addition, about 5.3 million women in the United States drink alcohol in a way that threatens their health and safety, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

For those women, just trying to get sober won’t fix the fundamental problem that caused them to drink too much to begin with, Bacchus said.

“I don’t care about sober,” she says. “I care about healthy. No one drinks or uses drugs in a vacuum. Usually there is an underlying mental disorder that causes and worsens the alcohol
or drug use.”

It’s important that women with serious drinking problems seek medical assistance so they can detox in a safe manner, Bacchus says. Detoxification from alcohol has more complications from withdrawal than any other drug, and the death rate for alcohol withdrawal is between 5 and 8 percent, she said.

Even after detoxing, Bacchus said, a therapist can help women develop healthy psychological coping skills to avoid a relapse.

Among the ways they can do that include:
•Biofeedback therapy. This teaches you to develop voluntary, conscious control of physiological processes that are typically involuntary and unconscious. “If you have alcohol cravings, biofeedback teaches you how to identify the physical sensations associated with them and allows you to deploy strategies to counter them,” Bacchus said.
•Hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Through hypnosis a therapist can explore the potential root causes of alcohol abuse, such as previously unknown disorder, a hidden memory or a past trauma. Bacchus offers a caveat: Only undergo hypnotherapy with a trained professional you trust completely.
•Exercise. Every time you exercise you build yourself up both psychologically and physically, Bacchus said. “Before you know it, you have a positive habit that sustains you through tough times,” she says. “Instead of taking a drink, you go for a walk. Instead of falling into a rabbit hole of negative emotion, you hit the gym.”
•Yoga. Yoga is both a great exercise for muscles and joints, but also an excellent way to deal with stress.

“This makes it a perfect practice for recovery,” Bacchus says, “because you need to rebuild your body from the ravages of alcohol abuse and rebuild your mind from the negative thought patterns you developed over years of addiction.”

“The goal is to replace the negative coping mechanisms of addiction with the healthy coping mechanisms of recovery,” Bacchus said. “You need your mind and body working in harmony so your soul can be at peace.”