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Struggling in Secret: Hidden Epidemic of Women Who Drink

From the Show: HER
Summary: Binge drinking, alcohol related ER visits, and DUI arrests among women are on the rise, yet there's still no conversation on why.
Air Date: 1/15/15
Duration: 10
Host: Michelle King Robson and Pamela Peeke, MD
Guest Bio: Michael Baron, MD
M BaronDr. Michael Baron is triple board certified in Psychiatry, Anesthesiology and Addiction Medicine, and has practiced in the Nashville area since 1998 in a variety of treatment settings, including private practice, Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital and Parthenon Pavilion.

Dr. Baron completed his medical degree and internship at Tulane University. He completed his residency training in anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine and in psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt since 2003.

Dr. Baron has a passion for treating addictions and mental health issues among licensed professionals, including physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, airline pilots and lawyers. He has served as a monitor for the state Physician Health Program as well as a supervisor for the Davidson County Drug Court.

Dr. Baron specializes in treating chronic pain and addiction. In 2006, he conducted original research showing that chronic opioid use can make pain worse – a finding that startled the medical community and has since been reproduced in study after study.

In 2010, Dr. Baron was appointed to the Board of Medical Examiners, the licensing board for medical doctors in the state of Tennessee. He was elected as vice chairman for the committee overseeing the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database, a database designed to monitor the dispensing of certain prescription medications and other controlled substances. He is also an appointed Fellow for the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Struggling in Secret: Hidden Epidemic of Women Who Drink
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STAFF WRITER
According to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcoholism and binge drinking is prominent among college-age women, but there is a noticeable increase in the number of older women with drinking problems. In fact, the last five years have seen an enormous 65 percent rise in older women who are treated for alcoholism. What could be causing this dramatic change?

The Reason Women Drink in Secrecy
One of the biggest problems when it comes to women drinking is that most of it tends to occur alone and in secrecy. One documentary, Lipstick and Liquor, offers insight into the hidden alcohol abuse by women and encourages open discussions. Dr. Michael Baron, who is triple board certified in Psychiatry, Anesthesiology, and Addition Medicine, has been working with alcoholic women in an effort to pinpoint the source of the problem.

What Dr. Baron and other researchers have found is that many women are in the closet about alcoholism because there seems to be a lot of shame associated with it. “It’s the disease that really says to you, ‘You don’t have a disease,’ so there is a denial process where you don’t think you’re sick or functioning improperly,” explains Dr. Baron.

About 15 percent of women binge drink, which the CDC defines as four or more drinks in a two-hour period, at least once a month. Of the women who binge drink, nearly 14 million women do it three to four times per month. So many women are drinking heavily behind closed doors, and Dr. Baron believes it’s largely due to the negative stigma specific to women and alcohol. Men think it’s cool or fun to hang out with some buddies, watch a game, and devour a case of beer. Women, on the other hand, tend to drink around one and a half glasses of wine when they go out. For women, it’s not perceived as “cool” to down an entire bottle of wine or linger at the local bar. Dr. Baron puts it, “It’s like coronary artery disease; it’s always under recognized in women. “

The ‘P’ Word
This lack of attention from doctors perpetuates the illness, and women don’t get the right healthcare coverage because they aren’t expected to be ill with this type of disease. According to Dr. Pamela Peeke, host of the popular HER Radio talk show, “women have a huge emphasis on the P word: Perfect, as in the perfect mom or the perfect spouse.” Something shameful like drinking in the closet to self-soothe could ruin that perfect image, so it continues to remain hidden. The shame of drinking alone and in hiding will lead to more drinking, since it may be the only way you know how to handle the shame. Dr. Peeke notes this behavior can easily lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break out of.

If you believe you may have a drinking problem or know someone that does, Dr. Baron urges you to find help. “No one comes to treatment because they want to, but because they have to,” says Dr. Baron. Alcoholism is a progressive, potentially lethal disease that can affect men and women equally, and taking fast action toward treating this disease will help eliminate the stigma associated with women and heavy drinking.

Alonso is a long-time health and wellness advocate who loves to write about it. His writing spans the scope of blogs, educational magazines, and books, both on and offline.

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