“I’d black out daily. If there was nothing else to drink in the house, I’d swig cooking sake.”
Alcoholism is an old, familiar story, but the speaker is a 27-year-old woman, symbol of what Shukan Josei (Nov 22) calls an alarming new trend. A soaring number of alcoholics, it says, are young women.
Causes are partly physiological, partly social, partly psychological. There’s no ambiguity about the numbers, though. In 2008 the health ministry released statistics showing the number of women who drank – not necessarily to excess – had risen 4-fold in 40 years. Today, among people in their early 20s, more women drink than men – 90.4% versus 83.5%.
Izakaya pubs, says Shukan Josei, are full of all-women parties. Female celebrities are enlisted to promote alcoholic beverages. There’s nothing wrong with women having a good time, of course – or maybe there is. Women’s livers, the magazine hears from alcoholism specialist Dr Akiyoshi Saito, have considerably less capacity than men’s. “A man who drinks three large bottles of beer every day might become an alcoholic in 15 years,” he says. “A woman drinking at that pace has a good chance of becoming an alcoholic in seven or eight years.”
“In women, alcoholism often comes in the wake of a great loss,” says Saito. “Loss of a boyfriend, divorce, a personal relationship gone bad.”
In the case of the unnamed woman quoted above, it was the loss of a pet dog. She was an 18-year-old girl from the country starting university in Tokyo, and her parents urged her to take the dog along for company. She probably needed him at first, but soon she was swept up in campus life – parties, friends – and more or less forgot the dog’s existence. One night she came home to find it dead. She felt not only loss but guilt. She had, in a sense, neglected the dog to death. When she drank she felt better – at first after one beer, then after two, and so on.
She graduated and got a job. By then she found herself unable to face people without alcohol. She’d drink in the company toilet and come out hoping her breath didn’t give her away. Her memory began playing tricks on her. She missed appointments, kept clients waiting. She quit, fearing she was about to be fired. One day she woke up in a hospital with no idea how she got there. The staff told her she’d been brought in after going berserk on a train.
That was two years ago. Detox treatment followed, and now she’s on the wagon and free of the blinding headaches and piercing fears that used to assail her, though her future is still unclear.
It’s a harsh world of boisterous pleasure and deep pain. Alcohol sharpens the one and dulls the other. It’s not fair, but women, if Saito is correct, must handle it with extra care.