Reducing harmful drinking in midlife women

Posted 11 Feb 2022

While alcohol consumption in Australia is generally declining, drinking among midlife women is increasing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to this increase, and women aged 45 – 64 years are now some of Australia’s heaviest drinkers. This trend has significant physical and mental health implications.

Although Australian midlife women are currently drinking more alcohol than previous generations and other age groups, this trend exists alongside a growing global ‘sober curious’ movement toward alcohol moderation.

Sober curious is part of a broader wellness movement that has gained traction during COVID-19. It includes a growing market of alcohol-free beverages, ‘dry’ drinking venues, and the promotion of alcohol moderation by social influencers.

Dr Belinda Lunnay has received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed grant to investigate whether midlife women are, or can be, sober curious. Dr Lunnay and her team will explore what the barriers/enablers to sober curiosity are, and how the movement can be leveraged for population level reductions among midlife women.

“Being ‘sober curious’ might be challenging for women who consume alcohol to manage difficult lives. We expect this is a class-based phenomenon. This study will generate a class-based understanding of how differences in women’s reasons for consuming alcohol might affect their reasons for, and options to, reduce their drinking,” Dr Lunnay said.

“Lowering women’s alcohol consumption increases the chances they will live free from chronic conditions and with good mental health. Even short-term moderation reduces various acute and chronic health risks including liver disease, high blood pressure, obesity and cancer, as well as reducing the economic burden of such preventable conditions on our strained health system.

“It could also relieve psychosocial harms as drinkers are more likely to experience depression and anxiety as well as gendered violence – particularly evident during COVID-19. For women with the resources to be sober curious, this study will produce new avenues to reduce alcohol-related harms”.

Research category: Public Health

Project title: Are women in midlife ‘sober curious’? Leveraging alcohol moderation movements to reduce harmful drinking according to social class 

Lead researcher: Dr Belinda Lunnay


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