Women aged 50-70 are more likely to consume alcohol than younger women, at levels that exceed low-risk drinking guidelines, according to a new study.
The researchers found that despite the potential health risks of exceeding national drinking guidelines, many middle-aged and young-old women who consume alcohol at high-risk levels tend to perceive their drinking as normal and acceptable, so long as they appear respectable and in control.
For the findings, published in the journal Sociology of Health & Illness, researchers at New Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia and Aalborg University in Denmark, investigated the social construction of alcohol use among 49 women aged 50 to 69 in Australia and Denmark.
"The research highlighted that respondents from both countries indicated that alcohol use among women their age was normal and acceptable," said study lead author Julie Dare from ECU.
According to Australian health authorities, drinking more than two standard drinks on any day increases the risk considerably of premature death over a woman's lifetime.
The researchers found that women place more importance on appearing to be in control, behaving respectably, social pleasure and feeling liberated than the quantity of alcohol consumed or potential health risks.
Alcohol-related health risks
While some women reported reducing their drinking due to health concerns, others suggested that positive health behaviours such as exercise served to 'neutralise' alcohol-related health risks.
According to the study, health advice and interventions relating to middle-aged and young-old women's drinking practices need to acknowledge that women may socially construct their drinking practices to prioritise matters other than biomedical impacts of alcohol.
While the study highlighted many similarities between Australian and Danish women, one interesting cultural difference was the way Australian women thought about alcohol in relation to stress.
"If the Australian women had some sort of distress in their lives they believed it was acceptable to drink. They were quite open about this saying 'I just had a bad day, I needed to have a drink'," Dare said