‘It’s normal’: Older women and drinking at risky levels

Paul Hayes

11/02/2020 3:26:03 PM

Research has found Australian women aged 50–70 are more likely than younger women to consume alcohol at levels exceeding low-risk guidelines.

Older woman drinking
The study found many middle-aged and young-old women who consume alcohol at high-risk levels are likely to perceive their drinking as normal and acceptable.

‘Women my age tend to drink.’
That was a common sentiment among women who participated in a recent study that investigated the social construction of alcohol use among women aged 50 to 70 in Denmark and Australia.
A collaboration between Edith Cowan University (ECU) and Denmark’s Aalborg University, the study found that, despite the potential health risks of exceeding national drinking guidelines, many middle-aged and young-old women who consume alcohol at high-risk levels are likely to perceive their drinking as normal and acceptable, as long as it appears they are still in control.
‘It has become part of the norm … it is something we do with our acquaintances, friends and families. That’s just something we do,’ one respondent, a 59-year-old woman from Denmark, said.
A 69-year-old woman from Australia shared similar feelings.
‘As long as they [women] don’t make a fool of themselves. They don’t want to go falling down and showing their knickers,’ she said.
Researcher Dr Julie Dare said the study highlights the widespread use of alcohol – and the associated attitudes – in both samples of women from Australia and Denmark.
‘Respondents from both countries indicated that alcohol use among women their age was normal and acceptable,’ she said. ‘However, the importance of “staying in control” while drinking emerged as an important qualifier to the social acceptability of drinking.’
According to Australian health authorities, more than two standard drinks on any day considerably increases the risk of premature death over a woman’s lifetime.
‘Health messaging of no more than two standard drinks per day and no more than four standard drinks on any single drinking occasion didn’t seem to be relevant to women in this age group. There was a fair percentage drinking over that,’ Dr Dare said.
‘In Australia, younger women are starting to drink less, their rates have declined, but the proportion of women aged 60 and older drinking at levels that exceed single-occasion guidelines [more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion] has increased.’

The study also found women in Australia have a different attitude to alcohol in relation to stress.
‘If the Australian women had some sort of distress in their lives, they believed it was acceptable to drink. They were quite open about this, saying, “I just had a bad day. I needed to have a drink”,’ Dr Dare said.
‘Danish women were not the same. They reported it “wasn’t acceptable” to drink if they were upset.’
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