Women Bear the Financial Cost of Drinking Culture, Study Says

"This research can be used to argue for stricter alcohol policy."
April 24, 2020, 5:42am

Men and women both drink, but women don't drink like men do—as much, or as problematically. And more women than men lose money as a direct result of someone else's drinking, even when they don't drink themselves, according to new research led by La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR).

“Alcohol-related spending is not limited to the purchase of alcohol," writes lead researcher Dr Anne-Marie Laslett in a prepared statement. Financial burdens also take the form of replacing broken objects, repaying debts or loans, as well as "out-of-pocket medical costs for the drinker’s own—or their family members’—injuries."

The study, published this week in the journal Drug & Alcohol Dependence, surveyed 17,670 men and 20,947 women across 15 countries. Women from nine of those countries (Australia, Sweden, the US, New Zealand, Brazil, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India) were found to be at "significantly greater risk" than men of financial harm from someone else’s drinking habits. "We know that women experience more intimate partner violence than men, and this study shows how women are inequitably financially affected as well," Dr Laslett writes.

The study found those most at risk were younger women in high-income countries, women with limited access to education, women from rural areas, and women who drink at least moderately themselves. In Australia, women were found to be twice as likely as men to experience alcohol-related financial harm, whether the drinker was a partner, family member, or other loved one. Three percent of respondents in Australia were affected in total, which equates to more than 600,000 people when applied to our current population. Respondents from poorer countries reported the highest levels of financial harm from others’ drinking; 20 percent of participants in Sri Lanka and India were affected. But the implications of the study apply equally, in that a reduction in alcohol consumption could have a positive impact on household finances globally, which would particularly benefit women. "This research can be used to influence or argue for stricter alcohol policy," Dr Laslett tells VICE. "For instance, policies that … make it harder to buy alcohol online, or that reduce the number of bottle shops in an area." She says it also highlights the value of government investment in alcohol treatment, as the benefits clearly reach beyond just the problem drinker. A preexisting body of research from the UK looks at how the drinking of a loved one affects people's lives, but few studies focus on the financial consequences for those people. It's also rarer for studies to look at how people are impacted by "normal" drinkers, as opposed to recognised addicts. "Heavy episodic drinkers, or 'binge drinkers', are recognised to cause more problems than people who are dependent on alcohol," Dr Laslett says. This research is part of a larger, international study that looks at how alcohol causes harm to those around the drinker. The study will apply new metrics, including "reduced quality of life and other costs", to estimate the severity of second-hand impacts of alcohol. "We don’t want to stigmatise the drinker," Dr Laslett adds. "Drinkers drink heavily for a range of reasons, and need our attention and empathy as well. Both the drinker and those in their social milieu need support when situations, relationships and personhood—that is, being yourself—become difficult."