From a young age, I was sold on the idea that drinking was what cool and empowered women did.
I’d grown up watching Sex And The City and in my mind, alcohol was linked to so many positives: fun, freedom, strength, success and happiness.
However, the reality of alcohol was quite the opposite – it left me feeling trapped and miserable.
With International Women’s Day coming up, there’s going to be a lot of talk about empowering women this week.
I think that having some honest conversations about alcohol would really help with that.
I’m almost 7 years sober now and I’ve never felt better.
But if I could go back in time and speak to my younger self, there are a four key messages I’d like to share…
Watch out for femvertising
Yes, that is a real word! It’s when adverts use female empowerment to sell stuff. For example, do you remember the Virginia Slims “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” marketing campaign? Linking a tobacco product to women’s liberation was a genius move in boosting sales (and making lung cancer an equal opportunity disease).
So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Diageo, the world’s largest spirits business, is an official supporter of International Women’s Day 🙄
Meanwhile, one of Diageo’s brands – Baileys – sponsors the Women’s Prize For Fiction. Budweiser is an official partner of the England Women’s football team. And Smirnoff’s Equalising Music campaign pushes for greater gender balance in the music industry.
Linking booze brands with female empowerment is pretty troubling. In the UK, alcohol-related deaths among women are at the highest rate in 10 years. Worldwide, alcohol is associated with 2.8 million deaths each year.
Alcohol’s negative effects harm women more than men
Booze is a health disaster for us. We are faster to experience liver disease and damage to our hearts and nerves. Women who have 2-3 alcoholic drinks a day have a 20 percent higher breast cancer risk compared to women who don’t drink. Alcohol is also linked to a range of other cancers and reduced fertility.
Many of these gender-based differences in alcohol’s effects on the body weren’t discovered until fairly recently, and more research is still needed. As this article explains, until the 1990s, almost all clinical studies on alcohol were carried out solely on men!
Drinking is not self care
Culturally, one of the biggest shifts in the way we talk about alcohol is the link to self care. “You deserve a drink!” is often shorthand for empathy and sympathy – a euphemism for just taking a break.
The sad thing is, we really do need to take a break. We’re working harder than ever (because having it all often means doing it all) and we seriously need to look after ourselves and practice better self care. But alcohol is never going to facilitate that.
Self care is about looking after ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Drinking a toxic poison which causes cancer, depression, anxiety and death can never be self care. It just can’t. It’s a contradiction in terms.
Sobriety is more empowering than drinking
This is one of the biggest cons about booze: the idea that drinking is somehow empowering, rebellious and liberating for women. Yet alcohol is actually the most normalised drug on the planet. So how can using it be edgy and cool?
Surely, choosing not to follow the masses and buy into the advertising hype is a more rebellious thing to do.
If it’s freedom you want, then sobriety is probably one of the best ways of getting that. (They don’t call it alcohol free living for nothing.) You’re free because you’re no longer dependent on a drug to feel good.
Honestly – how are we supposed to smash the patriarchy if we’re numbed and dulled by booze? It’s going to be a lot harder. Last year I wrote this blog about how some of the smartest and most inspiring women don’t drink. What might you be capable of, if booze wasn’t getting in the way?
For help and support to quit drinking, click here for details of my online course.
Well I’d never heard of femvertising before, but I know what you mean and i see it everywhere! With some products it’s fine, but with alcohol definitely not. I am a graduate of your April class from last year Kate and I will soon be 1 year sober. Feeling so good to have said bye bye to the wine witch!
Congratulations, 11 months already Linda! I’m so excited to see you reach that 1 year milestone. Well done ❤️
Congratulations! I will start Kate class this coming April. Big hopes! 🙂
Was so excited to see that you linked to my BBC article about alcohol’s outsized effects on women, as I’m a faithful reader of your newsletter! Thanks for creating an important space for people looking to be AF!
No problem Marisa! You wrote a great article and I learnt so much from it, so very happy to share 🙂
It’s a great article! I learnt stuff too and I’m a doctor (2 years 9 months sober, thanks Kate).
Marisa, can you help me with this sentence I don’t understand about 2/3 down, “When her team looked at the brains of long-term drinkers, they noticed that alcoholic men had smaller ‘reward centres’ than their male counterparts.”
Hi. I drink because I’m bored. I work full time I come home my son (16) is either out or in his room. I love exercise but the evenings have dark. I’ve recently got a dog I love walking him. I drink every evening,I’ve reduced it from 1 1/2 bottle of white wine to 3/4 because I get up at 5.20 to walk him. Need to stop evening drinking but it’s a habit because I feel lonely
Hi Lisa, I work with a lot of women who are drinking because they’re lonely. I know it can seem as if alcohol really helps with those feelings. But the relief is only ever temporary, and in the long term, drinking actually keeps you stuck, not making any other changes that could ultimately ease that loneliness and bring more connection into your life. So please do continue working on your sobriety – it’s too good to miss out on. If you need any help quitting drinking or taking a break, here’s how I can help you: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
Great post Kate! Alcohol totally keeps women down – I lost my voice, my inhibitions, my intelligence, tons of money, so much time, my looks, my health when I drank. No wonder it’s pushed so hard, others may benefit when we drink. Not us. And it’s so ingrained in our culture that we need to bust the myths all of the time. Thanks for what you do!!
Thanks Jane 🙂
Drinking definitely dulls us… and we all deserve so much better than that.
Great to have you to turn to makes me feel as I am not doing this alone and when I feel like a drink will turn to your news letter
You’re in good company here Julia, that’s for sure! If you’d like some help and support to quit drinking (and feel good about it) you might like to take a look at my online course. Here are some more details: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
I so want to join the AF Team. I always say that I will start tomorrow and then an excuse comes along….. like I stubbed my toe.. Not really, but just about as dumb. What can I do to make my resolutions stick? I bought a really expensive bottle of wine on Saturday afternoon and had finished it by bedtime… And, the crazy thing is, I did not have what you would call a “hangover”, but I felt so dull and tired all day.
I am missing out on beautiful weekends.
Hi Moira, I’m happy to help you with this. It can be super hard trying to figure this out alone. I’d love to work with you and have you join my online course – that way we can get you following a proper plan, learning new strategies and give you lots of accountability and support. You can get on the waitlist for the next class here: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
And in the meantime, I suggest you watch some of these super inspiring videos! https://thesoberschool.com/reviews/
I hope this reassures you that with the right help and support, you can absolutely can do this 🙂
The hangover the next day is also a means of (not a healthy one I know) distracting yourself from loneliness. It takes time and energy to cope with the hangover. You can give yourself licence to sleep longer, nap, and also engage in eating junk food to salve the hangover.
Baby steps for me 5 weeks Alcohol free. I feel much better and happier in myself.
That’s fantastic Lynda – congratulations! 🙂
I have been reading your blog for almost a year now. I waffled back and forth, always finding a reason to keep drinking. It helps me sleep, it helps me relax, it helps the aches and pains…blah, blah, blah…
I am happy to say that, after 10 years of heavy, daily drinking, 8 days ago, I just stopped. I have many good reasons to stop, it was like the perfect storm. I still read your blog, and I have a great support system. Thank you for all that you to help women move into the light of sobriety!
That’s great to hear Angela – congratulations on your 8 days! 🙂
Great article Kate! I’d not heard of femvertising before either but it is so true! We deserve to reclaim our power as women and not be led to believe that alcohol is the magical elixer to a happier life by way of relaxation, self care, stress relief etc.
As a July 18 graduate of your course I can thoroughly recommend that doing your course really works and am forever grateful to have found freedom from the clutches of alcohol. Keep up the great work!
Thank you Cindy – always good to hear from you! ❤️
I’m just dipping my toe in the clear waters of potential sobriety.
Your articles are building up a Arsenal of strength in my broken psyche.
I have cut the amount I drink in half and the half again. I’m not done yet…but thank for allowing me access to your life changing knowledge. X
No problem Alison! If you need any help to make that final leap into alcohol free awesomeness, you might want to take a look at my course: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
I hope you give sobriety a proper test drive… you’re missing out on so much goodness! 🙂
I love reading people’s comments and the positivity that they contain. I have tried so many times to give up but have never really lasted beyond a couple of days. The self loathing and disappointment within myself was immense, but not enough to make me give up. However, 23 days ago, something seemed to click, and I haven’t had a drink since. I don’t know what happened and I don’t want to jinx myself, but I am really hoping that this is the start of a new journey AF. I’m sleeping so much better and am more focused. The affirmative and encouraging comments on the page are really helpful. Thanks xx
Fantastic, congratulations on your 23 days Kate – keep going! It keeps on getting better and better 🙂
Hi, I am new to this. Am just starting to be honest with myself and that I have a problem. Not really sure where to begin and would love some advice. I have experienced some severe trauma, as most as us probably have. Alcohol has always been my way of coping. I am really starting to recognise the toll it is taking on my personal relationships with old friends and my ability to work or provide for myself. I am 36, live at my dads and drink about 2 bottles of wine a night. Not working. I’ve watched everything gradually slip away. I come from a background of sexual abuse. Am seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist, being treated for anxiety and depression and PTSD. I know I need help. Not sure where to begin to stop drinking. Thanks and sorry if I have gone in a bit.
Hi Lou, thanks for getting in touch – I’m happy to help. I recommend taking a complete break from alcohol for 6-8 weeks. That’s the best way to experience sobriety properly. (A lot of people make the mistake of only ever stopping for a few days here and there, which means they never get past the tough first few weeks). If you’d like my support to make that break happen, here’s how we can work together: https://thesoberschool.com/course