Created in partnership with Cancer Council Victoria

A Rise In Alcohol Consumption Is Harming The Health Of Australian Women

Despite the rise in low to no-alcohol beverage options and people trading nightclubs for running clubs, rates of risky drinking (i.e. drinking outside of the recommended guidelines) among young women aged 18 to 24 is on the rise.
According to Alison McAleese, the Alcohol Programs Manager at Cancer Council Victoria and an Accredited Practising Dietitian, in 2022-23 two in five young women aged 18 to 24 consumed alcohol outside of the recommended guidelines per week, on average. These state that people should consume no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. 
While people may be talking more about the sober curious lifestyle and swapping shots for scrapbooking, the stats are saying that Australian women are still drinking to an unhealthy excess. And they’re harming themselves in the process.

How did we get here? 

Australians are no strangers to drinking culture. Every year, the alcohol industry spends over $100 million dollars marketing their products to the community. This also includes branding and flavours targeted at women, specifically.
Labelled as 'cutesy drinking culture' by writer Sadhbh O'Sullivan, the ‘wine o’clock’ messages printed on mugs, tote bags and birthday cards aren’t as harmless as their pink glitter suggests. Especially considering that alcohol is linked to seven different types of cancer. 
These include cancer of the mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), oesophagus, bowel, liver and breast.
“When alcohol is broken down by the body, a toxic by-product called acetaldehyde is produced, which can damage our cells and lead to cancer,” says McAleese.
“Alcohol also increases cancer risk through influencing our hormone levels and causing tissue damage.”
"While the alcohol industry’s marketing tactics boost product sales and fuel corporate profits, they are harming our community’s health," says McAleese.
In a review by Dr Amanda Atkinson, a senior researcher with the Public Health Institute, she notes that women have become increasingly targeted by the alcohol industry since the 1990s.
From the sweet, pink pre-mixed drinks targeted at girl's nights, to ‘Friyay’ celebrations and ‘wine mom’ energy, Dr Atkinson notes that the alcohol industry has begun 'femvertising' – i.e. playing into tropes of empowerment and associating themselves with gender representation and progression.
And while research shows that men were much more likely to drink alcohol on a daily basis (and consume greater volumes of it than women), it's clear the culture surrounding women’s drinking habits can often be more subtle and insidious.

How to cut back 

If you’re wanting to cut back on the amount of alcohol you consume, McAleese says even starting with setting small goals can make a big difference.
Consider alcohol-free days or even weeks and swap out your usual glass of wine (which can contain up to two standard drinks) for low and non-alcoholic alternatives.
According to McAleese, cutting back on alcohol isn’t just good for lowering your cancer risk – it can also improve your mood, sleep, energy levels, and diet (as alcohol tends to be high in kilojoules but low in nutrition).
Socialising doesn’t have to always involve alcohol as well. Suggest different social activities with your friends such as coffee-catch ups, long walks, a craft night, or a dinner sans the bottle of wine. 
"If you do drink," says McAleese, "set a clear limit before you start and hydrate with a glass of water between each."
If you're wanting to challenge yourself, consider participating in the Dry July initiative. The fundraiser encourages people to go alcohol-free for a month in order to raise money for people affected by cancer, providing invaluable services to support cancer patients, their families and carers.
Knowledge is power and while alcohol may still be a part of your life, by being armed with the facts, you can cut through the marketing spin and make informed decisions on how you choose to take care of your body.
For more information on cutting back on alcohol and reducing your cancer risk, visit Cancer Council Victoria.
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