'Ladies who lunch' get medical implants to beat cravings for wine
Leading doctor warns women their nightly tipple is the new face of addiction, writes Niamh Horan
Middle- aged Irish women, enslaved to nightly bottles of wine, are being treated for alcoholism with surgical implants that have traditionally been administered to heroin users, according to one of Ireland's leading experts on alcohol and drug addiction.
The implant, containing a drug called Naltrexone, lasts for three months and is administered during a 15-minute procedure under a local anaesthetic at a cost of €1,150.
Dr Hugh Gallagher, a HSE GP co-ordinator in addiction service and head of the One Step Clinic, has said that the implants are being used by women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who are the new major drug-dependency problem in Ireland.
This group of women is bucking the national trend, under which alcohol consumption has fallen by 25pc from its peak Celtic Tiger levels.
According to Dr Gallagher, the new cohort of overworked, tired and unhappy Irish women are increasingly turning to alcohol for consolation.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Dr Gallagher said: "Traditionally, we were dealing with males in their 50s or 60s. It has now changed to a problem which is crossing society and genders. Middle- and upper-class women are presenting too; it's very much across the board."
Dr Gallagher said women were "ambivalent" towards their wine consumption and alcohol-fuelled lunches.
"A treat becomes an entitlement. They feel they deserve this every other day, or at the end of each day and it can become quite troublesome."
The addiction expert describes the culture shift with women and drinking that has emerged since the Nineties.
"The trend started out with Babycham marketed for women as a nice, feminine, sparkling drink. Then we headed from there to the 'Ladette' culture of the Nineties and female celebrities being photographed leaving clubs and pubs during nights out. From there we had the Sex and the City culture and Bridget Jones era and it has been a progression during that time, which has continued."
He also said the feminist revolution had put increasing workloads and expectations on women.
"Women now have to perform in the boardroom, the kitchen and the bedroom. There is more pressure, more stress, they are going out to work but they are also keeping the family going and in charge of most of the household and they are starting to have a wee drink on a Friday evening, because they feel they deserve it, and then opening a bottle of wine on a week day night.
"That can progress to every night during the week at dinner to maybe throwing down the keys as soon as they come in the door and opening a bottle of wine straight away. That is the pattern we are seeing."
The addiction specialist also said a 'ladies who lunch' culture, which has emerged in middle- and upper-class Ireland, was adding to the worrying trend.
Commenting on the new social fixture, he said: "In our mothers' time, meeting a group of friends to chat and catch up was traditionally done over a cup of tea but that has now dramatically changed to centre around wine.
"Women meeting up once or twice a week for lunches, where they don't notice their glass being constantly refilled, their husbands are at work, the kids are at college or at school and they're feeling bored or neglected or whatever the case may be.
"I find it baffling and extremely worrying. That is not innocent behaviour. It simply isn't. Someone who is doing that on a regular basis is putting themselves at a very significant risk of developing problems.
"And the problems, the reasons behind the drinking, are perpetuated by alcohol and it then becomes a vicious cycle.
"We heard in America about the Upper East Side Manhattan hedge fund wives (HFW) and we have the same problem in Ireland. This type of group drinking, it's not dissimilar to what happens to guys in parks and fields. It is just a different presentation."
Since opening the One Step programme 18 months ago, Dr Gallagher is seeing hundreds of patients from all over the country. The part-time rehab programme allows patients to overcome their problems while still attending work each day.
Many are using the Naltrexone in conjunction with counselling sessions.
Naltrexone is a drug that blocks the effects of heroin and reduces the 'pleasure' or 'highs' associated with alcohol consumption.
Part of the pleasurable effect from alcohol happens through opiate receptors. When these receptors are blocked, people get fewer cravings for alcohol and less pleasure if they do drink.
It becomes much easier for them to stay abstinent and continue with their recovery.