Quit Lit gives women insight and support for sobriety


In “Quit Like a Woman,” author Holly Whitaker says, “At one point, it made sense to have airplane photos in my purse — just in case.” Sometimes (especially when I was working on a deadline) I would sit in my apartment for days on end, drinking from morning until I passed out.

Catherine Gray wrote in “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” that “life was too sharp, too painful, too real, and too loud when I was sober. Drinking softened the edges and faded clarity.”

A third writer, Annie Grace, said in “This Naked Mind” that “Giving up drinking felt like an incredible sacrifice, like losing a good friend.”

Welcome to the world of Quit Lit – a new genre of storytelling that aims to help women drink less alcohol. I heard about these books from my patients – the ones who started to worry about the amount they were drinking – even before the pandemic. They are numerous enough to earn the quippy category label Quit Lit, and have resonated with women acknowledging that alcohol is not their friend.

The drinking figures tell an alarming story. From 2000 to 2016, an increasing number of women drank moderately and binge drank, while rates remained the same for men. In addition, from 2006 to 2014, there was a 70 percent increase in annual alcohol-related emergency room visits for women, compared to a 58 percent increase for men.

According to Monitoring the Future, a study conducted by the University of Michigan, college women in 2020 were slightly more likely than their male peers to report being drunk in the past month.

“Over the past 50 years, the gap between men’s and women’s alcohol consumption has narrowed on every measure,” said George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Recent data is more promising: In 2019, 6 percent of women were classified as heavy drinkers, up from 5.8 percent in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quit Lit gave my patients and me an easy way to talk about dependence and addiction. Several of these memoirs and motivational guides are bestsellers, including “This Naked Mind,” “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober,” and “Quit Like a Woman.” These confessions about alcohol dependence share a common theme: they explain in vivid detail the author’s struggle with the bottle, and the ways society has tricked us into thinking alcohol is a cool way to deal with the ups and downs of life. life to go, rather than a toxic way. substance with addictive properties, which worsens the symptoms of anxiety and depression over time.

The Quit Lit warnings are important. A persistent article in the Lancet stated: “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.” Alcohol may not be beneficial to anyone, but it is especially toxic to women. Women have less body water than men or a similar weight, and thus achieve higher blood alcohol levels after drinking similar amounts. Koob says that over time, “women need less alcohol to suffer from alcohol-induced liver inflammation, cardiovascular disease, memory loss, hangovers, and certain cancers than men.” And when it comes to breast cancer, there is no safe amount of consumption. “Epidemiological studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake,” according to the National Cancer Institute website.

Studies show that women tend to drink to reduce anxiety, depression and other moods, while men tend to drink to enhance positive feelings, said Sherry McKee, a professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. , who has studied sex differences in addiction for 25 years. “The pandemic has clearly shown us the relationship between stress and drinking,” she said. “Women experienced more distress, and that was consistent with drinking more.”

Quitting drinking, especially if it’s an addiction, is hard. The problem with many sobriety options is that they’re unappealing, Whitaker said. Ten years ago, when she realized she needed to stop drinking, the only options she knew of were Alcoholics Anonymous and rehab—neither of which appealed to her. She couldn’t afford to take time off work for rehab and AA’s message wasn’t for her. Sobriety should feel like a win, Whitaker said. “My sobriety came from wanting to be sober more than I wanted the drug,” she said.

I listened to the audio version of “This Naked Mind” in December. In chapter after chapter, Grace dispels myths about alcohol – that you need it to be more confident, social, and fun; that it tastes delicious; that it helps us fit in – so we are no longer driven to drink by false assumptions. The book helped me remember during a few holiday gatherings. I liked them just as much without the hustle and bustle of a bourbon Manhattan. Plus, no headaches the next day or vague memories of dinner discussions.

In early January, I read Allen Carr’s “Stop Drinking Without Willpower” in two quick sessions and decided to have a dry January. This wouldn’t qualify as Quit Lit because it’s not a confessional, but it’s the book Whitaker used to get sober. The message is simple: Once you understand your unhealthy relationship with alcohol, you’ll want to quit. No willpower is needed, for your decision will be made.

After spending some time with Quit Lit, I understood the attraction. There’s probably a reason only 7.7 percent of people with serious drinking problems seek help — it can be humiliating to label yourself an alcoholic. When a witty, wise woman tells you about her journey, it seems like you want to join in.

If you’re concerned about the amount you drink, there are plenty of resources. Consult your doctor before making drastic changes. If you’ve been drinking heavily for years, you may need to detox slowly and under supervision.

Teach yourself. The NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking offers a wealth of information, including how to tell when your drinking is problematic, how to taper down, and whether to cut back or stop. It explains what an alcohol use disorder is and when to worry.

Learn more about the treatment options. There are now many avenues to sobriety, including medication, therapy, outpatient programs, residential treatment, and support groups. Your doctor can help you determine the best course of action.

Read Stop Lit. It’s an easy way to get a new perspective on what’s going on in your mind and body when you drink and to feel less alone on your journey.

Join a community. One of the benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous is that you become part of a tribe of people with similar issues. If the message doesn’t catch on, consider Women for Sobriety or Smart Recovery.

Say out loud that you want to change your relationship with alcohol. Even mild drinkers tend to lie to themselves about their dependency. Tell yourself, then a trusted friend, then your doctor.

If you’ve had success quitting or cutting back, share your strategies in the comments section.

Lesley Alderman is a psychotherapist based in Brooklyn.

We welcome your comments on this column OnYourMind@washpost.com.

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