The latest (2003) figures on alcohol consumption based on gender, published by the NSO, show that 36 per cent of adults in Malta drink on a regular basis. When separated by gender, females account for 25 per cent of the total number.
The incidence of alcohol consumption among middle-aged women is rising.
According to a foreign study on this subject, most women tend to start drinking later in life, usually in the 30 to 50 age group. These are usually the years when a woman is more likely to be in a relationship or married, and have children.
Although a recent study showed that the number of Maltese women who have sought help at the Zernieq facilities has never been very high, there may be reason to believe there are more women out there who are not ready to admit that they have a drink problem.
Recent foreign studies show that women are more likely to continue to take care of their children, even if they are suffering from a serious personal problem such as alcoholism. While a woman will nurse her alcoholic husband and struggle to keep the family together on her own, a man is somehow more hostile to his wife’s drinking. He sees his wife’s alcoholism as an illness that could have been avoided.
The study revealed that while most Maltese men enjoyed economic stability and the ability to distance themselves from the problem, women found it harder because they still relied on their husband for financial security, for themselves and their children.
Men preferred to leave their wives once the habit kicked in, as they found it hard to cope with their wives’ drinking.
Foreign studies show that most women who acknowledge they have an alcohol problem, still feel that they are capable of looking after their children and are committed to their welfare.
Most women were hopeful that, once they had sorted out their problem, their relationship with their husband would be re-established.
When alcohol abuse took over the lives of these women, making it impossible for them to cope with their children and their need for love, attention, supervision, food and clothing, they tended to recognise their failure and most felt guilty that they had failed as mothers.
The 2003 NSO lifestyle studies show that females are reported to drink an average of 1.1 units of alcohol per week, compared to the 4.9 units per week of men. Beer accounts for around half of the total alcohol consumed, while wine accounts for 33 per cent.
Wine accounts for 50 per cent of the total amount of alcohol consumed by females, compared with 28.9 per cent by men.
The women interviewed in this study said they found gin and whisky too expensive and therefore opted for cheaper wines they could buy from local shops. This showed that housewives drank cheap wine not because they liked it but because it was the only alcohol they could afford.
This study showed that when women, especially housewives, have substance abuse problems, these are magnified because they feel responsible for their family. They feel that they have to solve the problem on their own to avoid causing any tension or unrest in the home.
However, the absence of immediate assistance from the husband or family members will only exacerbate the problem, as these women suffer further misery. Society can be very judgmental, especially in myopic Malta, and some of these housewives tend to hide their addiction as they are afraid of becoming the subject of village
The study also shows that they take longer to seek help, as they are too embarrassed to disclose their problem to their family and only tell them that their husband is leaving them, when this is the case. Most of the women interviewed in this study had all been drinking for quite some time before they admitted they needed help.
These housewives were also preoccupied with their children and who would take care of them once they admitted the problem, as they were afraid they would be labelled unworthy mothers and that the children would be taken away from them.
Unfortunately, the stigma linked to alcoholism ruins most women. We live in a society where women are more likely to be condemned than men.
Even though young women drinking in bars is considered “normal”, housewives of a certain age who are seen drinking heavily in public can easily earn a bad reputation and start the village gossip machine going.
The women interviewed in this study said that they preferred to drink at home to keep their addiction secret. One woman even said that she always refrained from drinking in public when out with her husband or at some family gathering. However, she got drunk on wine every day at home.
This study showed that further research into the degree of awareness of alcoholism needs to be carried out. Legal advice and psychological help could also be given to women who request it.
Changing the mentality of society is difficult. However, further education and consultation is essential to help women avoid marriage and family breakdown due to alcohol abuse.
source: The Independant Online