A dubious high for ‘spirited’ women in India’s cities

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 - 1:51am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Alcoholics Anonymous has seen a sharp rise in the number of women, most of them in their twenties, attending these meetings

This is one glass ceiling one wishes women hadn’t broken. In what could be a sign of changing lifestyles, more and more women are seeking help for problems related to alcohol consumption.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) India, which completes 53 years in the country this May, has seen a sharp increase in the number of women — most of them in their twenties — attending its meetings. In fact, AA’s Mumbai chapter has even started organising weekly meetings exclusively for women alcoholics.

“Apart from Mumbai, such women-only AA meetings are also being held in Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Chandigarh, which is another indicator of the fact that more and more women are seeking help,” said SK Bhalla, chairman, AA India.

Worldwide, a third of the total membership in AA is female. In India, it is much lower, Bhalla said.

There are about 12 women — most of them in their twenties — who attend the exclusive women’s meetings in Mumbai. “When I came to AA at the age of 25, I felt out of place as there was not a single woman in the meeting,” recalled Suzan Gomes (name changed), who completed 19 years of sobriety on May 15.

Having failed in her previous attempts to start a women’s group owing to the fact that not many women were willing to come forward, Gomes, the 45-year-old resident of a western suburb, finally succeeded in starting the women’s group a year ago with the help of like-minded women.

“We meet once a week on Wednesdays between 8 and 9pm. And we have seen a number of people attending it and we plan to increase the timing of the meetings,” she said.

Indian women, according to Gomes, have a bigger problem. A survey showed that the maximum number of female alcoholics was in Goa followed by Mumbai.

“Women drink straight out of the bottle, and as a result consume a lot more," she said. "They had access to a lot of hiding places in the house — be it in their wardrobe, kitchen cabinet, or toilet flush.”

Psychiatrists agree that alcohol addiction among women is on the rise. “Over the years consuming alcohol has become socially acceptable for women. This has encouraged a lot of women to take up drinking,” said psychiatrist Dr Shrikant Pandit, adding that binge drinking is on the rise among women.

“[But] there has been a change in attitude towards seeking help, with several families calling up for enquiries. Compared to 10 years ago, there is a lot more awareness as well,” said Arun Shelar, manager, AA India. “In the past year, several new centres have come up that offer rehabilitation services exclusively for women — in Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. This is because women have started seeking help.”

AA India will host an international convention in Goa in November, where the main topic of discussion will be ‘help for women alcoholics’, said Shelar.

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