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Quit Lit provides women with insight and support for sobriety

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In “Quit Like a Woman,” author Holly Whitaker says, “At some point, it made sense to carry pictures of planes in my purse—just in case. Sometimes (especially when working on a deadline) I’d hole up in my apartment for days on end, drinking myself into the morning until I passed out.

Catherine Gray wrote in “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” that “Life was too sharp, too painful, too real, and too loud when I was sober. Drink has softened the edges and obscured the clarity.”

A third writer, Annie Grace, said in “This Naked Mind” that “giving up drinking felt like an incredible sacrifice, like the loss of a close friend.”

Welcome to the world of Quit Lit – a new genre of storytelling aimed at helping women drink less alcohol. I learned about these books from my patients – those who were starting to worry about how much they were drinking – even before the pandemic. They are numerous enough to acquire the Quit Lit category label and have resonated with women who are recognizing that alcohol is not their friend.

The drink numbers tell an alarming story. From 2000 to 2016, increasing numbers of women were moderate and heavy drinkers, while rates among men remained stable. What’s more, from 2006 to 2014, there was a 70% increase in annual alcohol-related emergency department visits for women, compared to a 58% increase for men.

In 2020, college girls were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to report getting drunk in the previous month, according to Monitoring the Future, a survey conducted by the University of Michigan.

“Over the past 50 years, the gap between male and female alcohol use has narrowed across all parameters,” said George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Recent data is more promising – in 2019, 6% of women were classified as heavy drinkers, similar to 5.8% in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quit Lit has given my patients and me an easy way to talk about addiction and addiction. Several of these motivational and memoir guides are best sellers, including “This Naked Mind”, “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober”, and “Quit Like a Woman”. These alcohol addiction confessionals share a common theme: explaining in vivid detail the author’s battle with the bottle and the ways in which society has misled us into thinking that alcohol is a cool way to deal with the ups and downs. of life rather than a toxic medicine. substance with addictive properties, which increases anxiety and depressive symptoms over time.

Quit Lit warnings are important. A scathing article in the Lancet declared: “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.” Alcohol may not be beneficial for anyone, but it is especially toxic for women. Women have less body water than men or similar weight, and therefore reach higher blood alcohol levels after drinking similar amounts. Koob says that over time, “it takes less alcohol for women to suffer from alcohol-induced liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, memory blackouts, hangovers and certain cancers than men do.” And when it comes to breast cancer, there is no such thing as a safe amount to consume. “Epidemiologic studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake,” according to the National Cancer Institute website.

Studies indicate that women tend to drink to reduce anxiety, depression and other moods, while men tend to drink to increase positive feelings, said Sherry McKee, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine who studies the differences. of gender in addiction for 25 years. “The pandemic has clearly shown us the relationship between stress and drinking,” she said. “Women were experiencing greater distress, and this corresponded to the increase in drinking.”

Quitting drinking, especially when it’s an addiction, is difficult. The problem with many sobriety options is that they aren’t appealing, Whitaker said. When she realized a decade ago that she needed to stop drinking, the only options she knew were Alcoholics Anonymous and rehab—and neither of them appealed to her. She couldn’t afford to take time off work for rehab and AA’s message wasn’t for her. Sobriety has to feel like a victory, Whitaker said. “My sobriety came more from the desire to stay sober than the drug,” she said.

I heard the audio version of “This Naked Mind” in December. Chapter after chapter, Grace dispels myths about alcohol — that you need to be more confident, social, and fun; that tastes great; that it helps us fit in – so we are no longer driven to drink by erroneous assumptions. The book helped me to abstain during some holiday meetings. I found them so much fun without the buzz of a Manhattan bourbon. Also, no headaches the next day or fuzzy memories of dinner discussions.

In early January, I read Allen Carr’s “Stop Drinking Without Willpower” in two quick sessions and resolved to have a dry January. This would not qualify as Quit Lit because it is not a confessional, but it is the book Whitaker used to sober up. The message is simple: once you understand your unhealthy relationship with alcohol, you’ll want to quit. It will not require willpower because your mind will be made up.

After spending some time with Quit Lit, I understood the appeal. There’s probably a reason why only 7.7% of people with serious drinking problems seek help – it can be humiliating to label yourself an alcoholic. When a witty, wise woman is telling about her journey, it sounds like you want to be.

If you’re concerned about how much you drink, there are plenty of resources. Consult your doctor before making any drastic changes. If you’ve been a heavy drinker for years, you may need to detox slowly and under supervision.

Educate yourself. NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking offers a wealth of information, including how to know when drinking is problematic, how to cut back, and whether to cut back or stop. It explains what alcohol use disorder is and when you should be concerned.

Learn more about the treatment options. There are now many paths to sobriety, including medication, therapy, outpatient programs, residential care, and support groups. Your doctor can help you determine the best course.

Read Exit Lit. It’s an easy way to gain a new perspective on what’s going on in your mind and body when you drink and feel less alone on your journey.

Join a community. One of the benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous is that you become part of a tribe of people with similar struggles. If your message doesn’t resonate, consider Women for Sobriety or Smart Recovery.

say it out loud that you want to change your relationship with alcohol. Even moderate drinkers tend to lie to themselves about their addiction. Tell yourself, then a trusted friend, then your doctor.

If you were successful in stopping or cutting back, please share your strategies in the comments section.

Lesley Alderman is a psychotherapist based in Brooklyn.

We welcome your comments on this column at OnYourMind@washpost.com.

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