Alcoholism, like any affliction, can be painful and daunting to go through. Although what separates alcoholism or any other intoxicant-based addiction from other afflictions is the added social stigma and disdain. Our collective view of addiction is very narrow and our knowledge of the subject very limited. We still make the mistake of treating addiction as a choice and addicts as lowly creatures.
In spite of this, we often overlook alcoholism in teenagers. With the lack of awareness, most teens are unable to identify the early signs of alcoholism in their peers and alcohol abuse is often just thought of as social drinking, as alcohol still continues to be a symbol of prestige among urbane, privileged teenagers. Alcohol is still associated with social approval and being placed higher up on the teenage social hierarchy.
We still make the mistake of treating addiction as a choice and addicts as lowly creatures.
Although, all this is only true of male alcohol consumption and/or abuse. Alcohol consumption or abuse by women is often met with mockery, disdain, shock, policing and shaming, even by other teenagers. At sixteen, at a time when most of my peers either consumed alcohol often or some even abused it, I silently suffered from alcoholism.
I always went to great lengths to conceal my alcoholism because I knew that would only subject me to policing and shaming and would never actually lead to getting any help. Although the great lengths I went to eventually fell short and my alcoholism and the promiscuity people often assumed I am engaging in because that’s what all bad women who drink do – was quite often the subject of discussion and fruitless gossip.
Although, what continues to baffle me even today, after over two years of sobriety, is that no one once suggested I get help. Most of my friends incessantly mocked me, looked at me with disdain and anger, but most never suggested I get help. This disdain and mockery existed while they casually chatted about alcohol consumption or the abuse of alcohol by their male friends or male partners with nonchalance and acceptance.
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Most people enraged by my alcoholism never shared similar feelings about their male friends or male partners who were doing the same. When the men in their lives drank they would share a drink with them or talk about it with a sense of ease and normalcy. There were no whispers, there was no shame, there weren’t any dismissive shrugs. But my drinking was a point of contention and lost me quite a lot of friends.
People who easily associated with men who abused alcohol without giving it a second thought found it extremely difficult to associate with a woman who did. Men drink – we are taught that from when we are very young. It’s normal, expected and accepted. When it comes to women, though, we are told nice, chaste, good, women don’t drink. They can’t. We are taught that all men and ‘vile’ women drink.
I have never once heard someone call a man immoral or call him promiscuous because he abuses alcohol, but I was often subjected to slut-shaming. My alcoholism was the testimony of my ‘loose’ character and I was an example of the women no ‘good’ woman should ever associate with, lest I affect their character.
We are taught that all men and ‘vile’ women drink.
My alcoholism wasn’t an addiction or an affliction. It was a testimony, a cautionary tale, about the promiscuous, immoral woman who we should all stay away from. Who we should all view as examples of what not to be and not as people who are suffering.
My experiences with the sexist approach towards alcoholism in women weren’t perpetrated by older people, who we often assume are bigoted, it was perpetrated by teenagers. The teenagers my age that I knew were the ones who believed alcoholism isn’t an affliction if it affects a woman because it is somehow their fault for defying the unsaid rule that alcohol belongs to men – to use it or abuse it. Men who are alcoholics should get help, but women who suffer from alcoholism should just stop drinking and not stray into territories that don’t belong to them.
Addictions are just as bad, the gender of the addict notwithstanding. Women who abuse alcohol require the same help as men who do. Gender doesn’t make alcoholism more of a choice or a matter of will. It’s time we rid ourselves of the biases and the sexism we are constantly taught. The idea of us as change-makers shouldn’t be an unachievable, idealistic view. It should be our reality.
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Editor’s note: this article does not encourage or justify alcoholism. This was an attempt to engage with the gender-based social and cultural stigmas when it comes to addressing addiction.
My mother is alcoholic. My father has given up ocassional mild drinking and is a teatotaller now. My mother once hit a motorcyclist while driving drunk. My sister cried every time mom had a drink. I ran away to pursue a degree far away from home. Every occasion for us like diwali, new year ended with drama and fighting because of my mom’s drunk shenanigans. In fact relatives have started maintaining distance from us. I lost my mind when she used feminism as an excuse for drinking. She said “your father drinks why shouldn’t I and that women are no less than men. We have done everything to convince her to stop. What to do?
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