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Saturday 25 November 2017

Secret drinking of lonely 'empty nest' mothers

Some women can struggle with the void

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Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

'Empty nest' mothers are increasingly turning to booze to combat loneliness and isolation after their children have left home, experts have warned.

Addiction specialists are worried about a new cohort of problem drinkers - women in their 50s who suddenly find themselves with time on their hands and start feeling that their life is without purpose.

Solitary wine drinking is highlighted as a particularly high-risk activity, which can result into a slide towards severe alcoholism.

Two leading Dublin-based addiction experts confirm all income groups are at risk. However, middle-class mothers, with disposable income, should be especially aware of their alcohol intake.

Gerry Cooney, senior addiction counsellor in Dublin's Rutland Centre, said middle-aged mothers seeking help is a growing phenomenon.

"Children have often been their primary focus. But when these women suddenly have loads of time on their hands, it's a huge lifestyle change.

"It's a void that has to be filled and some women struggle with that," he said.

"For some women, it's not acceptable to be out drinking very heavily in public, as is the case with men. But it can mean they're drinking lots at home - and in secret.

"This is an age group with increased addiction problems and empty nest syndrome would partly explain it."

In his experience, men often fail to adequately support a wife or partner who may have developed a drinking problem.

Some husbands become "enablers", he said, as they may be heavy drinkers themselves.

"Generally, men are less supportive to their drinking wives than women are to their drinking husbands. Therefore, women may not be getting help they desperately need.

"Some men take it personally and believe their other half's heavy drinking is a reflection on them. They question whether she is happy in the marriage, or if they are a bad husband or parent. So the reaction can be to underplay or ignore it.

"Addiction is a progressive problem, but if people are enabling or accommodating it, it gradually becomes more serious, and with greater consequences. The smartest people get into trouble. Rationality and intelligence don't come into play when it comes to making good decisions about substances that change our mood."

Women face greater health risks from alcohol than men - and the onset of drink- related health problems begins earlier. Women are more vulnerable to tissue damage, cirrhosis of the liver and increased risk of breast cancer.

Drinking one standard alcoholic drink a day is associated with a 9pc increase in the risk of developing the illness.

Alcohol counsellor Rolande Anderson says drinking among older women remains a "big problem".

"When they feel their role is complete, and the children have moved out, a flatness can set in. There is a propensity among some women to drink wine regularly - sometimes a bottle a day - and they think nothing of it."

Sunday Independent

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