Why are women over 40 drinking more?
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 - 08:30

Recent statistics from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education show drinking is on the rise among mid-life women. 

“This is not a teenage story. These are women who are usually highly functioning, career-and motherhood oriented, who then begin or return to drinking later in life,” says Dr Janice Withnall, a Western Sydney University researcher who conducted a seven-year study on the issue.

Why are women drinking more in later life?

“I probably felt I'd gone from having quite a big career to now being at home with kids and you can't leave at 4 o'clock and go for a run,” says Sally Doran, 42, a mum of two who travelled the world as a theatrical producer before having children.

After her second child was born she was up to a bottle of wine a night.

“So it's like this is how you relax, you're a mum, have a wine.” 

She says it was normalised on social media. “My Facebook messenger is all of my mum friends, it's 5 o'clock we're having wine. It's so acceptable that's how you deal with being a parent.”

Helen Pennington, 69 – who says she can drink up to a bottle of wine in one sitting – started drinking regularly in her late forties when she moved from regional Western Australia to Perth. By then her children were grown and gone. She says socialising with her neighbours was the reason she started.

“They were wine drinkers and they introduced us to wine which I'd never really had much to do with and so it's gone progressively from there.”

Others say it’s because drinking is ingrained in the culture.                  

“I was raised to think that it’s un-Australian not to drink,” says mum of three Karen Murray, 50, who drinks three to six Canadian Club whiskies almost every day despite health issues.

“I've really kind of tried to be as healthy as possible, but it still creeps back in and I don't understand why. Why can't I just stop it for the sake of my own health?” 

This week, Insight explores why women over 40 are drinking more.

If you or anyone you know needs help with an alcohol problem, contact:



JENNY BROCKIE:  Welcome everybody, good to have you with us tonight. Helen, you're 69 and you only started drinking regularly in your late 40s. Why?  Why did you start then? 

HELEN:  Probably because we lived on a farm in a rural area and we didn't have the money so we didn't go out like a lot of the young ones do now with double incomes, but then we moved to the city and I blame my neighbours. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you blame your neighbours? 

HELEN:  They were wine drinkers and they introduced us to wine which I'd never really had much to do with and of course now, we've moved down to the Margaret River area, we lived in Busselton in Western Australia which is a wine area. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And there's no shortage of wine there? 

HELEN:  You know hey, you can't go to a winery and not have wine for lunch. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How often do you drink? 

HELEN:  Ah, I'll be honest, every day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much? 

HELEN:  Ah, we would probably - I'd probably go through a bottle a day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  A bottle a day? 

HELEN:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is there a rule about when you start? 

HELEN:  Oh, yes, we'd never start before 7 o'clock at night. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And why is that? 

HELEN:  That's when the fire's going in the winter and that's when we have a lovely sunset on our front verandah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you shift that sometimes around Sydney time, you live in WA? 

HELEN:  Oh, yes, sometimes. Oh yes, on weekends, oh yeah, you know, midday, well that's 3 o'clock. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So when would you start on a weekend? 

HELEN:  Oh, it just depends on our social life really. I mean I can, I have, I've done it, I go four, five weeks without a drink, but I actually enjoy a wine and I go to sleep at night time much better after a wine than I do without a wine. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You sleep better drinking? 

HELEN: Oh absolutely, absolutely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what happens when you don't drink? 

HELEN:  I stay awake all night worrying about the world problems, trying to solve them all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you think about the constant health messages that are saying that you really should only be drinking about, well you should only be drinking two glasses a day? 

HELEN:   I'm heading towards 70 so, and I'm a great believer in being a fatalist, so I believe my life is going to be judged by someone else and whatever happens to me will happen. I look after myself, we eat well, we exercise, and we sort of try and do things in moderation, doesn't always work that way. But yeah, so… 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you take no notice of the …

HELEN:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Health guidelines? 

HELEN:  No, I never took any notice when was a smoker, I never took any notice of that the sponge that got squeezed in front of me by the children. Maybe I'm, maybe I'm a bit of a rebel, maybe I don't like rules. 

SALLY:  But do you think that we need to have some of that out there because there's people in 20s or my age and we've got young kids, and a lot of people aren't aware of how much the drinking or really what it's doing to them.  And I talk to people and I say I think I drink too much and they're like oh no.  I said a bottle is nine drinks. That's like, if you add that up over a week.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What Sally for you, I mean you're 42? 

SALLY: Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How long have you been drinking? 

SALLY: Oh, since I was fourteen. 

HELEN:  Oh, wow. 

SALLY:  So you know, I think…

JENNY BROCKIE:  And when you drink, how much would you have? 

SALLY: Um, well, you know, I worked in entertainment, I was a binge drinker at university, like you go out and you get hammered and you don't think about the consequences. You start working in your 20s and you are drink, drink, drink because that's what you do, and but then I had kids and I never thought I'd drink more after having kids and I don't know where it went from two glass as day to a bottle, but it did.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So it went up when you had kids? 

SALLY: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Rather than going down? 

SALLY: After the second one, yeah, 'cause…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think that was? 

SALLY: Oh, I hadn't slept for four years, I was tired, I probably felt I'd gone from having quite a big career to now being at home with kids and you can't leave, you can't leave at 4 o'clock and go for a run or something. So it's, and it's in the media and it's so much like this is how you relax, you're a mum, have a wine and my Facebook messenger is all of my mum friends are Snapchatting ah, it's 5 o'clock we're having wine. It's so acceptable that's how you deal with being a parent, that's how you deal with…

JENNY BROCKIE: That's how women deal with being parents? 

SALLY: Yes, it is, and my husband and I have a business that we run together, we have staff, we run it out of the house, it's quite a successful business so to all, everyone would look at my life and go woof, she's got no problems.  The kids go to private school, live in a nice house, we have a successful business, I volunteer at school, I'm keeping it together. Yet come 4 or 5 o'clock, a bottle was open and a bottle would be finished by the end of the night.  On the weekends sometime more and it's taken me two years to get to here. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Where you're thinking about it and talking about it and worried about it? 

SALLY: Well I've been talking about it for two years, which I find really odd is I've been dropping it into conversation that I think I drink too much. I think maybe I should stop. Not one person ever agreed with me and then I was like this is weird, I'm actually out there going this is a call for help. Like I shouldn't drink this much and people are like no, we all do it, it's fine, it's normal and it's not okay, you know.  I know women that have lost their licenses because they've been pulled over driving their kids to school the next day because they're still drunk from the night before.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about you Bec, you're 46, how much beer would you drink in a night? 

BEC: On an average night about six standard stubbies, I guess, but…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Every night? 

BEC:  Every night. When I'm on a binge, I call it, so when I'm sort of stuck in this cycle of drinking, hung over, drink, hung over, drink, hung over, yes, six beers easily, six stubbies. But then gradually that will increase over time to maybe nine, eight or nine stubbies a night. Usually until I just pass out. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you've got kids? 

BEC:  I have two children yes, I have an 11 year old girl and a 6 year old boy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Were they aware of that drinking? 

BEC:  Ah, no, because I tend to stay high functioning while I'm doing it.  Like I still cook meals, I still wash clothes, I still clean the house, you know, most nights I'll tuck them into bed and read them books and then I'll stay up and finish off my six pack of beer and watch a bit of TV and fall asleep on the couch and go to bed, and wake up the next morning and do that all over again.  And the thing is when you're hung over, often the only way that you feel you can make yourself feel better is to drink again. So you just get stuck in this endless loop of drink. 

BLONDE FEMALE:  Do you mean morning or night time? 

BEC:  No, I never drink in the morning and that’s the other thing, you know, while I can’t set rules around how much I drink, I can set rules about when I drink. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  About the time? 

BEC:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is really fascinating, what is that? 

SHANNA: Because it excuses you. 

BEC: It's acceptable to drink after 5 o'clock. 

SALLY:  5 o'clock in wine o'clock right? 

SHANNA:  If it's after 5, you're not an alcoholic, 

BEC:  You're just starting to cook dinner, crack a beer, crack a wine, you know the kids are home, it's stressful. You know your kid's screaming at you, the phone's ringing, the dinner's cooking on the stove, the television's going. 

SHANNA: This is my reward. 

BEC:  God, I need a drink. 

HELEN:  But isn't this really interesting because you're all in your 40s. When we were in our 40s, there's no way in the world we would have, we would have gone out drinking without, but these play dates, I can't get over these play dates.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But this isn't going out drinking? 

SALLY: This is home.

HELEN:  Yeah, this is home but also these play dates, I've never heard of play dates before where, we'd go and have a cup of tea with a girlfriend after school with our kids. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you don't any more Helen? 

HELEN:  No, no, but I don't have my babies around to be responsible to. I mean if it was my grandchildren I wouldn't. 

SHANNA:  More and more women I think are definitely more inclined. 

SALLY:  I organised my mother's group here in Sydney with my first, our first play date outside of the health centre was at the pub. We had four month olds, we went to the pub, we realised it was a bad look so we went to the park with bottles of wine.  Because it was fun, we were mums, we were on maternity leave and this was all okay. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you think of yourselves as heavy drinkers? 

SALLY:  I didn't then. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Didn't you? 

SALLY:  I thought this was, and I wasn't drinking as much then, we'd do that but I wasn't drinking a bottle a day.

JENNY BROCKIE: When did you start drinking? 

BEC:  The same as Sally actually when I was fourteen. 

SALLY: A family event? 

BEC:  Well actually it was a boat cruise on the Swan River with our Catholic church and for whatever reason beer was on tap. You know, like there was jugs of beer and I was fourteen, I was a child.  I mean even looking back on it now I feel somehow that it was my responsibility, that I was responsible for drinking but I was fourteen, I was a kid, you know? And if that happened to my daughter now I would be horrified. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Where do you drink mostly? 

BEC:  At home, you know, if we go out on the weekends with friends I'll drink then too but yeah, mostly at home by myself. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  By yourself? 

BEC:  By myself, yes.  My husband, partner, he likes a drink but he can take it or leave it, unlike me. 

JENNY BROCKIE: So how does he feel about your drinking? 

BEC:  He doesn't like it. He, he's not a big talker my husband so you won't get much out of him but it's quite evident that he really doesn't like it. Just for the fact of the money that I'm wasting for a start and maybe the impact that it has on our children, if not now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Does it impact on your children? 

BEC:  I like to hope not now, like I consider myself, you know, an excellent mother, I really do. I love my children more than anything and I am a good mother. You know, I'm actively involved in their education, I'm actively involved in the therapy for my son's autism, you know, I'm on the school P&C, I run my own business.  Like I'm a functioning good mother but I suspect that as time goes on and my children become more cognisant of how much I drink, that that's when it will start to have an impact and that's why you know, now I feel like I really need to rein it in. 

SALLY: That's how I feel too. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Does it affect how you function, how you look to the outside world, because I'm looking at the four of you and you know, it's interesting because it's not what you expect to see when you talk to people. 

SALLY: It’s not the image of an alcoholic, we're not living in gutters and stuff, we're middle aged, middle class women doing well in our lives, doing, keeping it all together, you know, no one…

BEC:  I don't know whether it affects how people see me to be honest. I mean no one has ever said anything and if I raise it, the same as Sally, like oh, I mean really? Well, you know, I drink that much, you can't have a problem because I don't have a problem. 

SALLY: Yeah. 

BEC:  Or it might be, the other thing is because I do so much of my drinking at home sort of, you know, in the evening when I don't ever see anyone then no one's really aware of it, you know, except for my family. 

SALLY:  I think that's how the problem is getting so much worse is a lots of it's unseen. When you're 18 or in your 20s, you're going out to clubs.  If you're that hammered you get kicked out, you're getting feedback from the rest of the world saying your behaviour is unacceptable…

JENNY BROCKIE: Unacceptable. 

SALLY:  At home no one's seeing, like it's sort of hidden and as long as you are up and you're meeting all your stuff that you need to do in the public eye, then you don't have a problem. 

BEC:  Yeah, exactly right. 

HELEN:  You know what, it's not only peer pressure in your age group, you know, I gave it up for six weeks in April, May and I didn't find it really hard to give up but…

BEC:  Didn't find it hard? 

HELEN:  No, I just went bang, just stopped like that, but socially it was really hard to go out, so I ended up buying mineral water and taking a champagne glass and putting it in like it looked like bubbles and then I would just get louder and louder and louder over the night and just sort of, because that's they say, you know, I asked all my friends what do I do differently when I'm drinking? I don't get aggressive.  I cry, I love everybody, you know, but most of the time I laugh a lot but I do get louder.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how did people react? 

HELEN:  You know, they'd say oh look, one won't hurt you but I felt the peer pressure so I know from young people how it must be because you haven't the strength, when you get to my age you can just tell them all to get, whatever…

SALLY:  Oh I'm very open about it, I'm like I'm not drinking - but you're so fun.  I'm like it's not very fun for me like yeah and I don't actually, look at me, I'm pretty open, social, I don't really need it. 

HELEN:  No. 

SALLY: And I never drink to be anything different, I just like getting drunk. 

HELEN:  And I think my friend Josie, you would say that I don't really need it? 

JOSIE:  No. 

HELEN:  I don't talk any more. 

SHANNA: I don't think any of us need it.  

JOSIE: No, she doesn’t need it, her personality's bigger than what alcohol makes it and she's a very social person so.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And do you drink as well? 

JOSIE:  I do drink but I'm a two pot screamer.  Half a glass of wine and I can feel the effects so yeah, I don't drink very heavily.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Karen, you're 50, what goes through your mind when you go from your first drink to your second drink to your third drink? 

KAREN:  Nothing. I'm enjoying it. I can relate to so many of what the other ladies have said. First drink, don't think about it. Second drink, don't think about it. If it's a school night, I tend to think a little bit about the third drink, should I really do this?  If it's a Friday night I don't think of the drink at all until probably I start to stumble at about six or seven and then I go oh, it's okay, I can sleep in in the morning.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what would be the most that you'd drink in one session? 

KAREN:  I probably slowed down a lot now but you know, probably four years ago, three or four years ago, I could drink probably half a carton on a Friday night by myself. 


KAREN:  Yeah, beer, yeah, yeah, no problem. 

SHANNA:   That would make you a legend where we're from. 

KAREN:  And you know, that's the whole point, that’s the whole point. 

SALLY: That makes me feel sad, like that makes me want to give her a hug, Karen a hug? 

KAREN:  It was what, I guess…

JENNY BROCKIE:  You can if you like. 

KAREN:  What I'm relating to so much is that I think we've got so much pressure on ourselves. 

SALLY: Yeah. 

KAREN:  As women in this age group, you know, we few up in the '90's, rock on, nirvana, we just had this, the world was our oyster.  We had professional careers, we had children, some of our relationships broke down, we became single mums, some of us did, some of us didn't. I think we just had a lot of pressure and the way that we dealt with that is the way that we'd always dealt with things. I think it's, my mum was, that's how she taught me, it's the Australian way. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  To drink? 

KAREN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How much do you drink now? 

KAREN:   I probably, I'd say I drink every night. Probably three or four CC cans every night. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is whiskey? 

KAREN:  Yeah, Canadian club and dry. Sometimes it depends, I might drink a bottle of wine. I don't really have a preference. I'll have, I'm on Coronas at the moment, it’s just what the bottelo has got…. 

SALLY: What's going, martinis, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What situations do you drink in?  Is it always at home? 

KAREN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Or mostly at home? 

KAREN:  Mostly at home. I guess my partner drinks as well so it just sort of makes it a bit easier. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about your girlfriends? 

KAREN:  Yeah, when we get together it tends to be a big a night.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you ever get together and not drink? 

KAREN:  No. 


BEC:  Not at night time surely but I mean you would meet for coffees during the day? 

KAREN:  Maybe. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Would you drink during the day as well, have you got that rule about…

KAREN:  No, day drinking, that's, that's like where you've got a little bit of an issue. Like I wouldn't drink …

SALLY: That's when you really are an alcoholic? 

KAREN:  I wouldn't day drink. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I mean that is really, you know…

SHANNA: What's the definition of an alcoholic? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yes, what is the definition? 

SALLY: A six year old birthday party, at 10 o'clock people are on the G&Ts. At 10 o'clock in the morning at a 6 year olds birthday party, this is what's happening, it's so acceptable. 

KAREN:  But what you just said before about that's alcoholic, and we've got this perception in our mind of what an alcoholic is. I call myself now a high functioning alcoholic, you know, because I can still hold down a job, I'm still functioning in every capable aspects of it, it's just from 5 o'clock onwards that's my time, that's when I will have a drink. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jasmin, you're 43, the last time you had a drink, how much did you have? 

JASMIN:  Um, one and a half bottles. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  One and a half bottles of wine? 

JASMIN:  Mm-mmm. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is that fairly typical for you? 

JASMIN:  An average night, but possibly even a light night because usually I do spirits. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much would you do in the way of spirits? 

JASMIN:  I could drink a bottle of gin or vodka in two nights. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And would you do that every night? 

JASMIN:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How would you describe the relationship that you had with alcohol or have with alcohol? 

JASMIN:  Well, it was my friend when I wanted to have a drink, and then once I got to three, four, five, it was my enemy because I would drink, drink till I had blackouts where I was still awake and functioning, but I the next day couldn't remember anything that I'd done. I'd do things like, I thought I was walking out my back step which was flat concrete and I was walking out where there was steps, just face plant, knocked out, only for a couple of seconds, woke up, just won't oh, crawled into bed and then woke up the next morning with this egg on my head that was, and I called the ambulance because I was like I might have concussion, you know, I was, yeah, it was pretty scary. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What are you like when you drink? 

JASMIN:  Well, I think that was, that was the major, major reason I went into detox was because I'd started to lose all my friends. When I was in my 20s, I was, you know, the life of the party it was great fun, but once I got into my 40s and had more than the bottle, I started turning into what my friends called Frank, and Frank wasn't very nice. Frank was very abrupt with people, Frank was honest with people, Frank was really rude and never violent, never, you know, wanted to get into punch up fights with anyone like that but it was just a real gruffness and a, you know, attitude and …

SALLY: Ugly. 

JASMIN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What's the appeal of alcohol to you? 

BEC: You know why you're doing it. I know why I do it. 


BEC:  I do it to relieve stress, I do it to cover my, you know so I don't have to think about the stress of raising my son and running a business, I don't have to think about if my relationship isn't going well, or any of those things. Once I have a drink I don't have to think about it anymore, I just have a drink and everything's good. I feel so much better.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Sally, was there a point where you think your drinking really took off? 

SALLY: Yeah, it was after my second was born and he had some food issues so I had to go on this crazy elimination diet and he was on this really strict food thing and it was really, I don't know, quite a lot of work on top of the business. He was about one, I think I had PND. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Postnatal depression? 

SALLY: Yeah, so it was all kind of snowballing. I was definitely medicating with alcohol and I think at that point, I couldn't tell you when it stopped being two glasses and started being a bottle but around then.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What were you doing before you had kids? 

SALLY: I was a theatrical producer. I was travelling the world and having a fantastic time and now I'm home with two kids and I sell uniforms so that may be why I drink a bit. 

JENNY BROCKIE: How old are your kids? 

SALLY: Five and three. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And did you realise your drinking was creeping up? 

SALLY: About six months I think in my head and I think I was sort of saying to people but no one ever questioned it. No one, and I'm sure, like my parents had seen me get totally written off and even my dad said I didn't think it was ever a problem. I'm like I couldn't stand up, that's a problem. So I guess when your parents aren't saying it's a problem, your partner's not saying it's a problem, it's not a problem. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  When was your last binge? 

SALLY: Five weeks ago on my 42nd birthday. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much did you drink? 

SALLY: Two bottles of wine and a martini, I felt pretty bad the next day.  I don't remember going to bed, I don't remember them leaving, these are parents from school, like I was mortified and then you were hilarious, it's fine. I'm like this is not okay people. Like it's really weird that you have to justify that something that is so unhealthy and so dangerous is a problem. Like if I was I'm giving up smoking, I'm giving up sugar, people are like good on you, that's healthy.   I'm giving up drinking… 

JENNY BROCKIE: Different with alcohol?

SALLY: Oh, my Good, how could you? 

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think you started drinking more Bec? 

BEC:  I think primarily was to deal with my son, my three year old son at the time. 

JENNY BROCKIE: This is your son who was diagnosed with autism? 

BEC:  Yes.  Um, it was really difficult back then, I mean he's six now and it's so much easier and he's such a beautiful boy so I don't want to, you know, put a negative connotation on it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yes, absolutely. 

BEC:  But back then it was really, really difficult and I think, you know, having to deal with his difficult behaviour all day and then sort of, there was a lot of grief involved and a lot of wondering whether it was my fault, whether it was something I'd done when I was pregnant. So anyway, I think that I sort of drank to, so I didn't have to deal with that and have all those thoughts in my head all the time. 

JENNY BROCKIE: So you're blaming yourself? 

BEC:  I was blaming myself, definitely, and it took me a long time, you know, a good three, two, three years to realise that it's not my fault and it doesn't matter anyway because he's a perfectly beautiful boy.  But I think that's, initially that's the reason my drinking really escalated. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How much would you think about drinking before you actually started?  Like did you think about it? 

BEC: Yes, you know, you would start probably about midday. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Thinking about it? 

BEC:  Yeah, will I go and buy a six pack of beer?  No you shouldn't, just go and pick the kids up, take them down to the beach, don't go to the bottle shop.  And then you pick up the kids from school and take them down the beach, you know, and think this is really good and then you're driving back into town and you drive past the bottle shop, oh I'll just duck in and get one six pack. It will just be tonight and then I'll stop tomorrow and that's just how it went every night. 

JENNY BROCKIE: And would you drink in front of your kids? 

BEC:  Oh, yeah.  My children were at home with me so yes, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about the rest of you? 

SALLY: You have one when you're cooking dinner, you have one with dinner, I think yeah, I mean I wouldn't - I don't think I was drunk in front of the kids.  Like I drank after they went to bed but definitely, yeah, they saw me drinking and that's one of the reasons why I want to stop.  I don't want them to think it's normal. 

KAREN:   See I'm different, I have three children's, 24, 18 and 15 and two of my oldest they don't drink because, I believe because they watch me drink. I don't know what my 15 year old is going to do, but they both have made an active choice not to drink. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  It doesn't always work like that though. 

KAREN: No, it doesn't.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Shan, I want to talk to you a little bit more because you're 43 and like a lot of people you started binge drinking at uni. How did your drinking increase? 

SHANNA:  Um, I would say for me it was the gap year actually between school and university when I went out into the big bad world and I thought that was an excellent idea, but unfortunately for me a few pretty rotten things happened in that year. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sorts of things? 

SHANNA:  Just some traumatic events happened. 


SHANNA:  To me, yeah, which was I was a really sweet young naive country kid and I really wasn't equipped to emotionally deal with it. By the time I was at university I was suddenly in this roaring environment where anything goes and whatever was fine, and I think it was a combination of unresolved post-traumatic stress, buffering feelings, et cetera, but also it was the novelty factor.  At university I was the fun "wild" country kid. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were drinking a lot from the get go? 

SHANNA:  Bucket loads, I was never going to have two or three and then drive everybody home. I was always going to be the last girl on the bar, like on the bar dancing, I was always going to be the one doing the craziest stupidest things so whatever that involved.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How much were you drinking? 

SHANNA:  So towards the end of my illustrious drinking career, yeah, two bottles of wine was my preferred method, so I would…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Every day? 

SHANNA:  Yeah.  Oh sorry not every day, sorry, when I drank it was a minimum of two bottles of wine.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how often would you drink? 

SHANNA:  Look, it varied. So in my mid 30s I was, I started to recognise that I had become a problem drinker and I tried to, I sort of really started trying to address it then, but it was a long hard road. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about after you got married? 

SHANNA:  So Timbo and I, sorry, that's Timbo, good looking guy there in the front row.


SHANNA:  So when Tim and I, after we got married we obviously thought okay, we should look at having a family and so, but my drinking was very clearly an issue that, you know, it was clearly an issue but I was still fighting that it was an issue. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you'd plan the amount that you'd need? 

SHANNA:  Yeah, absolutely. I, I would always go oh, better not just get bottle, better get two, actually bugger it, I'll get three because you never know. Yeah, and seriously I wouldn’t want to run out.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And if you had that three would you drink that three? 

SHANNA:  I would try but I was never vertical after about two and a bit. I would have a red hot go though, don't get me wrong, if I was breathing I was going to try to have more. It was insanity.

JENNY BROCKIE: How bad did it get?  What sort of situations did you get yourself in?  

SHANNA:  Trips to emergency, behaviour that resembled somebody who was not me at all, outright denial, scaring the living daylights out of my family, scaring my friends, exhausting my beautiful husband to the point where he was in just absolute despair and fear. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was it like for you Tim? 

TIM:  Yeah, it was pretty tough, that's for sure, I mean at the start it was, it was like Shan said, it was just, it seemed sort of half normal, just the whole party life but, you know, after a while it became a, a real issue and to the point that I was actually pretty frightened, you know, just going out to a social event because I knew that…

JENNY BROCKIE:  What were you frightened of? 

TIM:  Well I knew that at some point in the night that I'd have to, you know, rescue Shan.  That she'd be, her eyes would be starting to roll in her head and I'd have to take her home and quite often I'd be met with aggression, she wouldn't want to go home? 

SHANNA:  Yeah, yeah. 

TIM:  That was a real issue and it got harder and harder. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And were you a drinker, did you drink very much as well? 

TIM:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean I was, I wouldn't call myself a, well I probably did have a problem, you know, in, if you look at it from a doctor's perspective but from an Aussie country boy's perspective I'm just a normal, a normal bloke, you know? A normal drinker. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But were you drinking those sorts of amounts?

TIM:  I was, yeah, yeah. 

SHANNA:  When he was very, very young.  Never a problem.

TIM:  Yeah, but you know, I could take it or leave it sort of thing, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you talk, try to talk to Shan about it? 

TIM:  Yeah, absolutely, every day, every day we'd have a yarn and it was pretty tough though. I mean.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What would you say to her? 

TIM:  Oh, just ask her why and I couldn't understand it. I didn't really understand that it was alcoholism and that might sound stupid but it just, it was just one of those progressive things. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did it do to the relationship do you think? 

TIM:  It certainly put a lot of strain on the relationship for a lot of years. Um, but yeah, like it was, it was really tough.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why were you doing it do you think?

SHANNA:  Why? I can tell you why it began, I can tell you the traumas that triggered it, I can tell you what helped it along, I can tell you what pushed it along.  At the end of the day for us, inability to have a family, my infertility, well I presume I'm infertile, we haven't been able to have children.  That was a massive tipping point for me to go into another whole new category of catastrophic self-destruction, but, you know what, at the end of the day the reason I drank was because I had become an alcoholic. That is the reason I drank.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did anyone, did anyone else other than Tim, like friends, relatives, try and pull you up on it? 

SHANNA:  Oh, gosh yeah, but I definitely had the same things being said which was oh, no, you're right, have another one. You're great fun when you're boozed although you should just notch it off, you know, a bit at the end of the night Shan because, you know, that bit wasn't great or this bit. Um, it was really only towards the end where I would come unstuck in my very dramatic way that people would go wow, is everything alright here?

JENNY BROCKIE:  You overheard a conversation that someone had with Tim about you. 

SHANNA:  Oh, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Can you share that with everyone? 

SHANNA:  Yeah, yeah, that was a shocker. One night, ironically that night I wasn't drinking and a person who was newish to town who I thought was a pretty cool person, was with my husband and ironically they were on the beers that night. I heard this person who hardly knew Tim, and certainly hardly knew me beyond, you know, just first impressions and so on, just having this really intimate buddy, buddy chat and going jeez Warnie, what are you going to do about your missus, it's a bit of a worry? And cause I was walking towards this chat and they didn't know I was there, and I was just what, what? And you know what? It was a fair question from that person, it was a fair discussion to have because they obviously wanted to be good mates with us and they were concerned about this new guy that they thought was pretty fabulous and what's going on with your wife? We all kind of know there's some issues going on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how did you react to that? 

SHANNA:  Firstly I was pretty cranky, I was a bit humiliated, I was like shocked, I was horrified.  And then it dawned on me, like a great flipping light bulb moment, well dur, silly, it's, people know there's a problem and it was not long after that that I actively sought getting help. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tim then said something to you? 

SHANNA:  Oh he did. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  That pulled you right up? 

SHANNA:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did Tim say? 

SHANNA:  Timbo said to me that, he would dread a phone call from a policeman or an ambulance or whatever to say we found your wife, she's dead, she's crashed into a tree or she's hung herself which were both very highly likely options, and he said to me one day he said sometimes I wonder would it be better, because he said I've never seen a person in so many torment and agony and it was pretty rotten, that was pretty rotten. But you know what, I can understand that because, um, for someone you love to see you in such a constant state of distress and it's pretty horrible. And by no means did Tim ever want me to roll up dead but you know, he just said it was just horrific to keep seeing the despair and the on-going cycle of self-destruction, shame, hate, guilt, fire, drinking cycle blah, blah, blah, and like I said, at that stage, you know, we really didn't understand that this was a fatal disease that kills people.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tim, what did it take to get you to that point where you said that? 

TIM:  There was just a lot of years, you know, maybe six or seven years of pretty intense, you know, putting up with all this and living through it daily.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was there ever a point where you thought of leaving the relationship? 

TIM:  Um, probably my head was saying it all the time but my heart was saying the opposite so, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And he didn't? 

SHANNA:  He wouldn't, he said I always knew that I'd married the best girl in Australia, I was just waiting for you to realise it and all of Australia's going…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yes, I think you've just really bolstered his status nationally. 

SHANNA:   I know, I know, he'll have lots of widows run after him.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Helen, have you thought about adverse health effects from drinking? 

HELEN:  Funnily enough, no, I believe when my time's up my time's up and I live my life every day. I am thankful for every day I've got on earth, I've lost about five friends that were clean living, non-smoking, non-drinking, were eating organic food before it was even invented and we lost four of them in twelve months, all of cancer, and my philosophy in life changed a little bit then. I thought well, they lived such a perfect life, I was the rebel of the group, I should have been the one that should have gone basically and I just love life. I love life and I just think if I can't have my wine at night time, I won't go as far, I won't go as far as say cut my hand off because then I can't hold the glass of wine, but yeah, no. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you ignore the guidelines? 

HELEN:  My doctor's asked me that a couple of times. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Two drinks a day? 

HELEN:  Yes, he tells me two. I say to him sometimes I'll lie to you and I'll tell you I'll have two. And he looks at me and he says you can't lie because you've just gone red. So because I actually enjoy it, as simple as that, I enjoy wine. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Have you had any health issues? 

HELEN:  Um, yes, yeah, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sort of things? 

HELEN:  Well, my doctor is very, he's very efficient and he does blood tests every year and that's on liver, kidneys, whatever.  My liver actually always comes back as a high reading. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Liver function or…

HELEN:  Yeah, and they still can't work out why because I can go off alcohol, I've done it for three months, done the test again and it's the same.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But with the liver then that's showing, you know, an abnormal reading? 

HELEN:  He's got no idea why. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Doesn't stop you from drinking a bottle of wine a night? 

HELEN:  No, a bit naughty, aren't I?  A bit naughty. 

JOSIE:  But Helen, instead of having that bottle a day, would you consider having two glasses of wine a day? 

HELEN:  Oh, absolutely, yeah, but at the moment I'm not drinking between Monday and Friday. 

JOSIE: But you're making up for it on weekends, are you? 

HELEN:  I'm not drinking three bottles a day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  She's regretting bringing you along, very interesting. 

HELEN:  I'm drinking Margaret River wines for goodness sake. Yeah, no, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, I would have my glass, I would have my bottle of wine and then come Monday again and I go through the week and I don't really miss it. I can't say I miss it. I just miss not being able to sleep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Josie, you would prefer she drank less? 

JOSIE:  If it had a bearing on her liver, yes, definitely. She's a good mate and if reducing her alcohol intake would help with that, definitely. 


JOSIE:  I would like you to consider it. 


HELEN:  We've got a long plane trip to go to Perth. 


HELEN:  No, no, of course I will. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Karen, you've cut back on drinking every day, why? 

KAREN:  Well, February last year I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and I have been on a drug that I use every week and it affects the liver.  And there was a very specific time, you're not supposed to drink on it, you get blood tests every six weeks and every time I get my liver count done it's good and I go whoo. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you're not supposed to drink at all? 

KAREN:  You're really not supposed to but best case scenario, you're not supposed to drink the day before the medication, the day of the medication or the day after. And …

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much are you drinking and how often? 

KAREN:  Well I stopped and now I notice that I'm drinking the day before and the day after. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So it's only the day of taking the medication that you don't drink?

KAREN:  That's the only time that I've stopped drinking and I've really kind of tried to be as healthy as possible, but it still creeps back in and I don't understand why. I don't know why it's, it creeps, why can't I just stop it for the sake of my own health?

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you think the other health risks are from drinking? 

KAREN:  Liver, skin, cholesterol, like I'm aware of this them now. In my 40s and I guess this is what we're talking about, I wasn't, I didn't think about that. 50, hitting 50, which happened in June, has hit really hard for me and I realise that half my life's over and I don't want to be this way. I don't want to continue on this way. I want to live a healthy life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I'm going to show you something that you might not want to see and that probably quite a lot of women watching aren't going to want to see. Have a look at this. 



Over recommended limits each glass of alcohol increases your risk of health complications. Frequent or heavy drinking can take a serious toll on your vital organs and overall health. It can change the chemistry of the brain cells to make you crave more and can also cause brain damage.

Drinking can lead to damage to the heart muscle and irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. As the liver is relied on for processing alcohol, it's often suffers. Heavy drinking can cause a fatty liver, alcohol hepatitis and scarring. Due to dangerous inflammation, the pancreas can develop pancreatitis causing severe pain and preventing proper digestion.

Drinking is also linked to increased risk of cancer in the mouth, throat, oesophagus, breast, colon and liver. If you're a woman who is pregnant, experts advise no amount of alcohol is safe.



JENNY BROCKIE:  Helen, were you aware of all those risks? 

HELEN:  No, it's actually frightened the shit out of me. 


HELEN:  I might send a message out to all my friends that have been sending all these crazy messages to me over the last couple of days, cheers to you and here's another wine to you tonight while you're talking wine on TV.   I might send a little message like that back at them because I would say we're in the same sort of crowd, most of my friends would be drinkers like me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're speaking very differently to the way you were speaking at the beginning of the evening, good on you. Are you serious about that, that it really frightened you? 

HELEN:  I am and it has, I've nearly been in tears listening these girls' story at their age because I was never there at that age but probably I might be there at this age. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Janice, you've researched women and alcohol, what prompted you to do that research? Was there something that motivated it? 

JANICE: Absolutely. In 2000 I was part of a research team looking at breast cancer and it was part of my job to go and looked at lived experience of people with cancer and their friends and what I noted was that it was party time. The friends that would come to support the women, and this was women from say 40 to 65, would come in and they'd have a party, literally with wine.  I then spoke of course to the specialists and of course drinking alcohol is a major risk factor with those cancers, that's increased and then that's where the interest started.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think the messages aren't getting through?

JANICE: Because they don't have the emotional hit. I think if you talk to women about their drinking, it has a lot to do with lowering their emotional intensity and actually have to see the other side, the misery and real women talking about what really happens when you close the front door. 

SHANNA:  Yeah. Totally agree. 

JANICE: It really feels like that you're desperate. You don't know what to do.

JOSIE: People don't want to hear it or they've got the support mechanisms around them but at the end of the day it's the individual with the problem who recognises the problem and you ladies recognise you have problems. It's up to you, to do something about it. I'm saying this because my mother had a problem, she had eight kids and we all supported her but she didn't want to give it up. No matter what we did, it didn't help and also what I worry about is your kids, driving your kids around when you're under the influence because the way you're talking about how much alcohol you're having at the moment, you must be driving these kids to school, or wherever you're driving them at some point in time under the influence and if that's happening, please look at yourselves. 

SALLY: That's why we've come here. 

JOSIE: It's fantastic that you're here, but we're here and we could be, we're joking about certain parts of it but this is a real issue that only you as an individual needs to address and can fix for yourself. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kate, you're on a panel reviewing those guidelines that everyone's ignoring. 

KATE:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What's your reaction to what you've heard here tonight? 

KATE:  I think there's more people who don't know the guidelines. I mean some do ignore it, without a doubt, but I think so many people don't know the stuff about alcohol and breast cancer and a lot of people even now maybe aren't aware that that risk starts to cut in even after one or two drinks. For every drink that you drink per day, your risk of breast cancer goes up by 10 percent on average. So if you drink, I hate to say, but you drink a bottle of wine, doesn't matter how nice it is, probably for a woman that's putting your risk up by about 60 percent.  It's sort of scary stuff and when I started reading these studies I was never a big drinker but I drink since I've read those studies. 

KAREN: But hearing that statistic then, I guess that has resonated with me, rather than I can only have 1.5 drinks per day. 

HELEN: That's right. 

KAREN: You know, that means nothing to me but hearing what you just said, that is scary and that resonates with me.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kate, you're 43, you began drinking in your teens and you drank heavily until 2015? 

KATE:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How has it affected your health? 

KATE:  For my entire life my mental health has been a disaster because of alcohol, as my drinking went on in years in my 20s and into my 30s, there was a lot of injuries, a lot of falling, you know, face first into the concrete and wiping out half my face, torn medial ligaments from falling over, two broken ankles, twisted knees, it was a disaster. Getting closer to the end of my drinking I was finding problem solving really difficult, just really simple tasks, even when I was sober, if I even got back to that point the next day, I just, I was struggling to have an intelligent conversation with people.  And kidney pain every time I was drinking and I could feel that my body was shutting down. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much were you drinking? 

KATE:  A minimum of two bottles of wine a night and that would have been five nights a week. When I walked into my GP and owned what I was up to and said I really need some help, she said how much are you drinking and at that point I was drinking cider and I was drinking 88 stubbies of cider a week. 


KATE:  Yeah, the last night I drank of New Years Eve of 2014 I drank at least five bottles of wine. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did it take to stop? 

KATE:  It was New Year's Day of 2015, I think that's right, so I've had two and a half years now, and I was in bed, lying in my own urine in the bed in the spare room, in the back room.  I know that's horrifying but it's how it is, um, and I could hear my son in the kitchen with his dad and my daughter was there too and he said dad, why's mum still in bed and his dad said oh she's really tired and she's catching up on sleep, you know, and just something flicked in my head and I went this is ridiculous, get up.  You are lying to your kids, you're lying to yourself, your partner's lying to your children, you're not being a mother that you should be, you're not being present. I got up, I walked through the kitchen, past the kids, sat down at my laptop, typed myself a note, said you arsehole, get it together. What are you doing? And that was the last time I drank. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how long ago was that? 

KATE:  So it will be three years on New Year's Day next year. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you miss it? 

KATE:  I don't miss it, no, I don't miss the effects. I don't miss what it was doing to my life. I occasionally get really annoyed, you know, I might be out for a drive on a Sunday taking photos or something and I'll drive past all the cafes and sometimes it feels like everybody's drinking except me, you know, and I get a bit resentful and then I pull myself back into order and I think you know what, it's not worth it and if I ever you think of drinking which are there times when my teeth are aching and my skin's crawling and I really want a drink and I'm really going to rip my hair out.  There's points where I can't go to the supermarket after 5 o'clock at night if I've run out of milk, I'll have to go to the neighbour because I don't want to go past the bottle shop so that still happens. So yes, I do, but I definitely don't miss the disaster that was my life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jasmin, you're trying to stop too. Let's have a look. 




JASMIN:  I am a little bit anxious about making sure I've got everything to keep me occupied.  I'm wanting to do this now because I don't want to have to keep living the way I've been living with the alcoholism. If the detox doesn't work I will just have to try again. That's me, all packed.

It's definitely been a long time coming, I know I can't do it anymore. Do I think six days is going to be enough? A part of me would like to think definitely, that's all I need, I'm going to be really strong and I'm going to kick this habit like that. But then the professionals and the people who've been doing it for a long time have said sometimes it takes three detoxes before you give up.

I just need to do this, I just need to get better and stop drinking so much. No home for the next six days, gee, I'll be right. I'll be right. I'm freaking.

NURSE:  So were you expecting from the process physically?

JASMIN:  That I'm going to be medically assisted in quitting alcohol cold turkey.

NURSE:  Okay, okay, beautiful. Just what we need. Welcome. 



JENNY BROCKIE:  Jasmin, you've only been out a few days, what it was it like, the detox? 

JASMIN:  I coped with it reasonably well for the first three days and then I started feeling, because I hadn't felt for probably twenty years because I'd just drunk it away. So come the fourth day I started feeling and I didn't like that.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And this is very recent. How are you now? 

JASMIN:  So I came out on Sunday.  I think I built myself up so much leading up to it, I'd lost so many friends, isolated so many people, knocked myself out too many times, realised I had to do something that I knew I needed this kick in the butt for seven days to stay off the alcohol and if I could just do that, that would just be enough for me. And I think my mindset was already strong enough before I went in that once I came out it was just like you've got this, you know? It's like a challenge now. I've gone ten days, I'm going to go eleven days, I'm going to go twelve days.  So yeah, I'm doing pretty well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Well good luck.  Shan, what worked for you in the end? 

SHANNA:  What worked for me was just being brutally honest for the first time in my whole life, the end result was that I had drunk myself into alcoholism. High functioning, didn't matter, the fact was I couldn't drink. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how are you doing now? 

SHANNA:  So great, yeah, so great. So I'm three years, nearly three years now and I've never thought about alcohol in those three years. I knew I was headed for an early death whether it was by suicide or falling down a flight of stairs, I think I was hoping for the latter but ultimately what changed was when I looked in the mirror and stopped lying and said okay, I am an alcoholic.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Bec, earlier this year you posted on Facebook about your drinking.  Can you read out a little bit of that post for us? 

BEC:   Okay, I posted this on Facebook, I was selective about who saw it, mind you, my closest friends, but part of what I wrote was:  Every night I drink. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, repeat, repeat, repeat. I hate myself for doing it around my kids, for the way that I function as a parent at less than 50 percent capacity when I'm alternately drunk or hung over. Sorry. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Are you okay to keep going? 

BEC:  Yeah, yeah, sure. I would appreciate the love and support of my family and friends and no ridicule, no jokes, no, oh, you don't drink that much, this is a real issue for me.

SALLY:  Awesome.  

SHANNA:  That's really brave. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did people react to that, how did your family and friends react? 

BEC:  I got really loving feedback, lots of really loving support and feedback.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And where are you up to now? 

BEC:  Well Sally and I are about the same time at five weeks, but unlike Sally I've had a couple of blips long the way.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And where would you like to be? 

BEC:  I would like to be sober in the long term. I think that I'm not the sort of person that can drink and moderate at the same time. Not at this point in my life anyway. Perhaps a few more years down the track when I have some sobriety under my belt and I've managed to change my brain chemistry and my habits, then maybe I would like at moderating. But for the time being I'd like to be full time sober. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Sally, you've tried to stop drinking a few times in the past couple of years.  How are you going? 

SALLY: This time it feels different and I don't know why and my psychologist says you know, you go through stages of change and I'm at the action point. I went and saw my doctor, I went and saw a psychologist, I told people about it. I said, even though everyone things it's a joke and I don't drink that much and I'm not maybe as far down the path as other people, but I could see where it could go and I do want to get there. Right now I'm one day at a time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Helen, any final thoughts from you? 

HELEN:  Oh, look, I think I came along tonight and probably thought I was a bit of a joke, you know, prankster or joker because I take life, I don't take life that serious.  I laugh at most things, I can laugh in the worst saddest times of our life, I can still laugh but tonight has been and particularly because these girls are the same age as my daughters and, yeah, it has changed. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Thank you so much for joining us, thank you all for joining us, it's been really very interesting conversation and thank you to everyone else too for sharing your stories. That is all we have time for here but gosh, there's a lot to talk about, let's keep doing that on social media. Thanks everyone, thank you so much.