Women are taking the lead in Canada to undo the pervasive alcohol norm. It’s a norm the exerts pressure for women to use alcohol as a way to cope with day to day life and pushes alcohol on everyone, everywhere. From work to home and upbringing children the “wine to unwind” and “mommy juice” tropes of the alcohol norm push the idea that alcohol is a part of relaxation and coping with life’s challenges. This is a narrative driven by the alcohol industry to target women. And it’s a narrative that appears to work in favor of Big Alcohol but to the detriment of women’s health and well-being.
In 2018, the Report on the State of Public Health from Canada’s chief public health officer identified alcohol use in women as one of the most pressing concerns of our time.
The report highlighted that from 2011 to 2017, deaths attributed to alcohol increased by 26% among Canadian women, while alcohol-related deaths in men increased “only” 5%.
The pandemic has made matters even worse. Pandemic-centric marketing by the alcohol industry exploited the ongoing health crisis and associated stress and anxieties of people to drive higher alcohol sales and profit. This alcohol industry strategy comes at the cost of people’s health. A Statistics Canada survey released in January 2021 found that almost one in five Canadians said they consumed five or more units of alcohol — the equivalent of a bottle of wine — on the days they reported using alcohol in the previous month.
A fact hidden by the alcohol industry in their pursuit of profit targeting women is that alcohol affects women differently. For example having two glasses of wine a day can increase women’s breast cancer risk by 50%. Having three to six alcoholic beverages a week can increase the risk by 15%.
What we might consider to be very modest amounts of alcohol are still really significant from a health perspective,” said Dr. Jennifer Wyman, associate director of the Substance Use Service at Women’s College Hospital, as per CBC News.Dr. Jennifer Wyman, associate director, Substance Use Service, Women’s College Hospital
This is why Dr. Wyman thinks the low-risk alcohol use guidelines in Canada which suggest a maximum 10 glasses of alcohol per week, need to change.
Advocating for change
And women are stepping up, advocating for change and leading the work to undo the alcohol norm, for example by empowering other women to question harmful norms.
Allison Garber owns her own communications business and is a mother of two. She is in recovery and says that alcohol as a way to cope for women is normalized to the extent it has become invisible. She now helps other women who reach out to her with their alcohol issues in their recovery.
Ann Dowsett Johnston wrote the book “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.” It explores the social norms associated with women and alcohol use. And the ways in which society and pop culture normalizes a social issue which has vast negative impacts on women and communities.
I think the whole notion of mommy [alcohol consumption] has become a meme, and I think that there’s far too much humor about it. I think it’s a serious social issue,” said Ann Dowsett Johnston author of “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol,” as per CBC News.Ann Dowsett Johnston, Author
Alexis McCalla a life coach and mother calls Big Alcohol out concerning their pandemic centric and women targeted marketing tactics.
They’re trying to really leverage people’s insecurities and emotions and challenges in order to sell a product,” said Alexis McCalla, a life coach, as per CBC News.
And now you’re making an assumption that they can’t handle their lives so they have to go out and [have alcohol]. And now you’re normalizing it.”Alexis McCalla, life coach
Dawn Nickel is the founder of SheRecovers, a program to support women in recovery and women who want to explore reducing their alcohol use. Dr Nickel says during the pandemic last year the number of women reaching out to SheRecovers exploded. Their Facebook following has grown from 2000 to 7800. According to Dr Nickel while the pandemic did increase alcohol problems, it also brought many recovery programs and alcohol-free communities online. So, help, support and connection is now even more accessible.
We’re having these conversations for the first time in society around what we’re being influenced by, and who says we have to have a bottle of wine every evening to unwind,” said Dawn Nickel, the founder of SheRecovers, as per CBC News.Dr Dawn Nickel, founder, SheRecovers