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When to Say When

Do you order margaritas by the pitcher? Sip wine out of a coffee cup? Stay mindful of liquor store hours? Heed this sobering news and advice about women and drinking.

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At this point after the start of a new year, you may be congratulating yourself on finishing “dry January” and deciding which resolutions you can maintain all year long. It’s a good time to take a look at drinking habits and whether you need a reset on this often-overlooked part of our lifestyle choices.

Though sisters tend to drink less alcohol than other groups, the research is like a warning label telling us that we may have to be more aware and cautious about our drinking.

New research points to a creeping problem in our community: More women, including Black women, are suffering serious consequences from drinking alcohol. Though sisters tend to drink less alcohol than other groups, the research is like a warning label telling us that we may have to be more aware and cautious about our drinking.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found there was an increase in alcohol-related deaths for both men and women in recent years, but the rates of increase were higher among women – a nearly 15% increase between 2018 and 2020. That rise in mortality among women includes Black women.

What’s behind this troubling trend? It is unclear what’s causing the increase in drinking, says Ayana Jordan, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, but it is probably an increase in psychological factors such as anxiety, stress, and depression.

For alternative ways to de-stress, check out groups like Sober Black Girls Club, which provides resources, support, and self-care articles about rediscovering your passions, coping with loneliness, and hosting or attending a party without alcohol.

Another factor is a shift in culture that has made it more socially acceptable for women to drink. Advertisements showing Black celebrities promoting their drink brands add to the allure. “I believe it is a combination of the social acceptance of women drinking, financial independence, marketing, and also a culture of drinking more to ‘de-stress,’" she adds.

The combined stressors of being Black and female – the pressure of being female heads of households, working, and caregiving -- may also be driving a change in our relationship to alcohol. “Drinking is instant gratification,” says Khadi Oluwatoyin, founder and executive director of Sober Black Girls Club. But “in the long run, we pay a hefty price,” she adds.

So how do you know if your Girls Night Out or regular Happy Hours are not just harmless fun, but a health risk?

Drinking – The Risks and Realities

Know the facts. Drinking alcohol is actually riskier for women than it is for men. Women absorb more alcohol, and the effects of drinking – like feeling buzzed or tipsy – happen more quickly and last longer in women than men. It’s also important to know the guidelines for drinking, says Dr. Jordan. Moderate drinking for women is one drink or less in a day, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Examples of one standard drink include 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of spirits like rum or tequila, or 12 ounces of beer.

More alcohol, more problems. Drinking more than the guidelines for moderate drinking can be more harmful than glamorous liquor ads or music videos might suggest. It can lead to an increase in accidents, falls, memory problems, and even medical conditions like heart failure, says Dr. Jordan. What’s too much? Heavy drinking for women is consuming four or more beverages with alcohol in a day, per the NIAAA.

Be mindful of harmful habits. Dr. Jordan advises that you might need to cut down on your drinking or go sober if you find yourself doing things like hiding alcohol by drinking out of a mug, for example. Other warning signs might include new issues like trouble focusing or problems at work related to your drinking.

Get a reality check. If you’re not sure whether you’re drinking habits need to change, ask your health care provider. For alternative ways to de-stress, check out groups like Sober Black Girls Club, which provides resources, support, and self-care articles about rediscovering your passions, coping with loneliness, and hosting or attending a party without alcohol.

Follow Article Topics: Health