Alcohol-related deaths rising rapidly for women; moms at risk

Ashley Bowen will never forget the day she decided to get sober.

"The day that I decided to ask for help this time, I had been drinking for days. Not sleeping well and just basically my job, my full time job was drinking, and I couldn't do it anymore," she says.

Bowen says alcohol consumed her life, leaving her isolated and unable to care for her children.

"I wasn't able to take care of them the way I should have. I wasn't able to mother them," Bowen says tearfully. "Lot of regrets, lots of shame."

However, Bowen is blessed because she was able to quit. Too many women can't.

Alcohol is killing more women today than opioids. In fact, the number of deaths attributed to alcohol spiked 85 percent in just 10 years, according to new numbers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Men's deaths also increased, but only by 29 percent.

Why are so many women dying? Dr. Steven Wyatt is the Medical Director of Atrium Health's addiction medicine.

"Women drink a good two and a half times more frequently than they did 50 years ago," he said. The reasons include more women in the workplace and drinking becoming more socially acceptable among women.

But women's body chemistry makes them particularly at risk for alcohol abuse.

Wyatt says, "It's actually absorbed more rapidly by women than men."

Add ever increasing stress, career and financial instability, coping with the struggle to balance work and family and he says it's easy to see how a cocktail offers quick relief.

"Start cooking dinner, have a glass of wine, that leads eventually to two glasses of wine," said Wyatt. "Get the kids in bed and now you're going to drink three or four or five glasses of wine."

Then there's the difficulty in avoiding alcohol. It's not just bars, Bowen says, it's the mere task of preparing to make a meal.

"I don't put myself in situations where I'm around a lot of alcohol right now but I still have to go to the grocery store," said Bowen.

And once someone starts to drink regularly and to excess, their brains begin to change warns Wyatt.

"It's literally that the brain starts to crave alcohol-- starts to believe I can't do this job, this take care of these kids," said Bowen.

Bowen knows this feeling well. Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of her life and the shame of her drinking. Now sober for four months and counting, Bowen says she wants to tell her story to prevent other moms and their children from suffering serious consequences.

"The consequence is that I waited so long to ask for help that I lost so many years because of this disease. If I could say anything, if you do think you have a problem, talk to somebody," Bowen said. "The sooner you get help if needed, the better you'll mother your kids, be there for your kids, be there for your family and be a healthier person."