Darien Library hosts talk on women and alcohol use

It’s no secret that drinking is a casually accepted part of Darien’s social life, but its myriad ramifications—particularly as concern women—demand a closer look.

That’s why the Darien Library hosted “Women and Alcohol: A Community Conversation” on Wednesday night, featuring several professional panelists, as well as a New Canaan woman in recovery from her own alcohol addiction.

“How can we think about maybe not always including alcohol in our social activities?” asked Holly Jerspersen, a longtime Darien resident and senior communications manager for Shatterproof, an addiction-awareness nonprofit.

With alcohol abuse among women taking a dramatic upturn over the past 20 years—abetted by the “pinking” of alcohol marketing, targeting women—panelists agreed there was good reason for vigilance, in part because of the trickle-down impact on children and teens.

“I do see how pervasive alcohol is in our society and in our community here,” said Dr. Amanda Collins-Baine, a local internist since 2001, who runs Darien Signature Health.

“Problem drinking rose by 83 percent among women from 2002 to 2013,” she said, noting that women are affected differently by alcohol owing to different water and fat levels in the body.

The development of mood disorders related to alcohol consumption—depression and anxiety among them—are also more likely to develop in women, who can then be more prone to use alcohol as a coping mechanism in what becomes an ongoing cycle.

Collins-Baine also noted that while there is evidence that one drink daily can reduce risk of heart disease, that same amount has been shown to increase risk of breast cancer by five-to-nine percent, with that percentage increasing with more alcohol being regularly consumed.

“Alcohol Use Disorder is when you have a pattern of use that is problematic,” said psychiatrist Dr. Mia Handler, an assistant medical director at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan.

While there are levels to AUD—mild, moderate and severe—issues that earmark it will include the social impact of one’s drinking, excessive time spent drinking,

increasing amounts, withdrawal symptoms, and drinking impacting work and family.

“It becomes pretty easy to fall into even the mild range,” Handler said, with regular drinking.

She said that in 2016 in the United States there were 5.4 million women 18 years and older who could be considered to have an alcohol abuse problem and require treatment.

Sadly, less than one in 10 of those women will actually seek treatment.

There are several reasons for this, according to the panelists, including the stigma of addiction, as well as a sense of failure for some women who traditionally take on the caretaker role in a family unit.

Ginny Anderson of New Canaan appeared on the panel to share her personal story of confronting her alcoholism, as well as the journey of recovery she’s been taking the past 15 years.

“My drinking started at a very young age,” she said, with many people in her family likewise addicted. Appropriate coping skills for dealing with life’s imminent challenges, consequently, were never adequately taught to her.

“The fact that I’m alive today is really a miracle,” she said, noting it wasn’t like some of the stereotypical stories one associates with an alcoholic bum living under a bridge.

“I was just drunk on my kitchen floor in New Canaan,” she said.

At the same time, following questions around getting help for others, Anderson noted that no one could have gotten her sober until she was ready.

“It wouldn’t have mattered to me what anyone said,” she said. “Nothing anyone told me could have stopped me.”

But experts agreed that role-modeling was extremely important for young people, noting that drinking to relieve stress sends a clear message to children that it’s an acceptable way to cope.

Even how comments about drinking are worded, it was said, with statements like: “I could use a drink,” can play a hazardous role in the beliefs children form around drinking as a coping mechanism.

“So often we use alcohol to medicate ourselves,” Collins-Baine said.

“I think it’s so important that we model to our children just a healthy lifestyle and everything in moderation,” she said.

There are two follow-up discussions on the topic planned in May at the Darien YMCA featuring some of the same panelists.