Common habit driving women to rock bottom
WHEN mother-of-two and business owner Sally Doran started to drink a bottle of wine each night, she didn't think of it as a big problem.
Running a small business alongside her husband while raising two young children, the 42-year-old would usually pour her first glass of wine during dinner preparations as a way to unwind.
The next drop would fall at the dining table, and the rest when the kids were put to bed. For six months, this became part of her daily routine.
"After I had my first child, which I found very stressful, I didn't realise how much life would change (with a baby)," Mrs Doran told news.com.au.
"After my second son, I had post-natal depression. I couldn't tell you when I went from a couple of drinks a week, to a couple a day. But I did.
"Wine became my medicine to cope."
Prior to running her own medical uniform business, settling down and having children, Mrs Doran travelled the world working as a theatrical producer.
Her lifestyle was filled with parties and social events, admitting she didn't know adulthood without a drink.
"Nothing bad ever happened," she said.
"It's so acceptable to deal with stress by drinking wine. No one is seeing you do it. I'd never get drunk, even when I went out and I had two bottles or 20 drinks I'd feel affected, but not drunk.
"It's so acceptable that's how women often deal with stress, and it's so sad."
Mrs Doran's story - which she'll tell alongside other middle-aged, problem-drinking women on Tuesday night's episode of SBS's Insight on SBS discussing alcoholism among middle-aged women - resonates with freelance photographer and journalist Shanna Whan.
Mrs Whan admits she became a "regular blackout drinker" after years of social events and as a "coping mechanism" in her early twenties.
Growing up in rural NSW, Mrs Whan left her home town for boarding school as a teenager where things turned for the "naive country kid".
"When I was 18, a series of traumatic events occurred where men sexually, emotionally, and physically abused me," the now 43-year-old told news.com.au.
"I wasn't equipped in any way to deal with any of it. I was still very remotely based and there was little or no access to support.
"However, I was able to access was alcohol. That was plentiful.
"So it was no surprise that it soon emerged as a way for me to gain courage socially, and that's how it all began."
Mrs Whan's journey from a country girl to a to a high-functioning alcoholic and back to being sober took more than 20 years to achieve.
"In the early days, I drank at parties and socially like everyone else in my age group did," she explained.
"I was a classic binge-drinker for years. By the end of my thirties I wasn't drinking during the day, or even every day, but my bingeing had gone to extreme levels, and I was a regular blackout drinker.
"I still worked extremely hard and had a successful career. But I now drank increasingly alone.
"I could easily sit down with between one-or-two bottles of red wine after five o'clock and finish them both. It depended on the day."
It wasn't until her mid-thirties and a battle with infertility that Mrs Whan's relationship with alcohol spiralled out of control.
"It finally brought me completely to my knees," she said.
"I had been fortunate enough to meet and marry an exceptionally good man. When it became apparent we wouldn't be able to have our own family, I started to fall apart. I no longer cared if I lived or not."
Mrs Whan said alcohol changed her from being the "life and soul of the party" to "an emotional wreck".
"There was a fine line, and if I crossed it, I became the person who would collapse in a heap and become an emotional wreck," she said.
"It was like all the grief and sorrow and rage would finally come pouring out because my walls were knocked aside by the alcohol. It was crazy."
Mrs Whan said hitting rock bottom saved her marriage to Tim - and her life.
After falling down a flight of stairs while intoxicated, and being rushed to emergency, the terror and grief of what was happening "finally hit home".
"I had struggled until this point to come to terms with the fact I was an alcoholic," she said.
"There were endless incidents when I drank. I was forever blacking out, injuring myself, scaring my family and friends. I didn't trust myself to be able to stop."
Both Sally and Shanna are currently sober, having both reached out to support groups to find assistance for their addiction.
But their stories echo a growing number of women across Australia, whose relationship with the drink has reached dangerous levels.
Last year, newsreader Talitha Cummins told her story of spiralling into alcoholism where at her lowest, would drink four bottles of wine a night.
During the confronting interview on Australian Story, the Weekend Sunrise presenter admitted to being carried to a car after a media awards night, and spending another morning having her stomach pumped.
According to an international analysis by the University of NSW published in 2016, women are catching up with men in terms of their alcohol consumption, and in some cases, exceeding them.
The research shows the gap is also narrowing in terms of injuries and harm to health.
Men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice as likely as their female peers to drink alcohol; but this had almost reached parity among those born between 1991 and 2000.
Males were historically three times more likely than women to show signs of problematic use, including binge and heavy drinking. Now men are barely more likely to be problem drinkers than women (1.2 times).
According to journalist and author Jill Starktook, who wrote High Sobriety about her year off alcohol, many of the women she interviewed for the book said they began binge-drinking in their teens or 20s, and thought that once they settled down and had children, they would stop.
Instead, they found their new lives so stressful that they treasured a glass of wine at the end of the day, and it often became earlier and earlier.
"We need to encourage young women to look at other ways to relieve stress," she said. "They don't need alcohol to fit in, relax or unwind.
"Women have more anxiety issues relating to their self-esteem and gain more confidence from drinking."
- with Emma Reynolds
Shanna Whan and Sally Doran will both appear as a guest on Insight, which airs Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS One.
This week, Insight looks at why more middle-aged women are turning to alcohol.