Women and alcoholism: author describes ‘global epidemic’

Journalist and author Ann Dowsett Johnston talks about her personal battle with alcoholism, and the issues behind the growing number of women alcoholics worldwide.

Ann Dowsett Johnston talks about her personal battle, issues behind growing number of women alcoholics

Journalist and author Ann Dowsett Johnston, a recovered alcoholic, has researched the relationship between gender and alcohol and found that women may have more problems with it than society generally thinks.

Journalist and author Ann Dowsett Johnston is now a member of the “sisterhood of sobriety,” but for years she wrestled with a dependence on alcohol. 

“I grew up with an alcoholic mother who was heavily cross-addicted to Valium … I was very conscious of not getting into trouble, and deluded myself for a long time, not realizing how progressive it was.”

Her fondness for Pinot Grigio graduated from a social drink to private binges. There were black outs, and public outbursts.

This week on The Sunday Edition:

  • Michael Enright’s Essay - Myths about policing: Policing is not one of the most dangerous occupations, police don’t have sufficient training for crises, and they must submit to civilian oversight.
  • Ann Dowsett Johnston: The author and journalist talks about her battle with addiction, and the growing issue of alcoholism among women worldwide.
  • Yukon Gold and Netted Gems: How PEI potato farmers David and Brian Best launched a crowdfunding campaign to save their farm.
  • Saving the Symphony: Some predict half of North America’s symphonies will go bankrupt in the next few years. Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Oundjian talks about the challenges and joys of his job.
  • The Moral Stain of Drone Warfare: Mark Bowden talks about the secretive and controversial world of drone warfare.
  • Sunday School with Michael Enright: Michael admits he can’t tell a raven from a robin. Birder par excellence Sarah Rupert teaches him how to identify birds by their calls.

Tune in to the CBC Radio broadcast at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 22, or visit The Sunday Edition's website to listen to them online.

In the winter of 2008 she went into rehab and got sober.

She began to rebuild her life, but as she was sitting in recovery meetings in church basements she noticed a significant number of women at those meetings – women of all ages and from all walks of life.

Alcoholism is considered largely a male problem, so Dowsett Johnston, a journalist by profession, began to look into the relationship between gender and alcohol.

She found that some researchers believe there is a “global epidemic” in women’s drinking, and that alcohol producers are creating products specifically aimed at women. 

“We are looking at a very savvy marketing industry looking at an entire gender and hoping to woo them, and they’ve done a very good job,” she said.

Shame, stigma and silence inhibit women from sharing their stories of addiction, especially in a culture that romanticizes its relationship with the bottle.

In 2011, Dowsett Johnston won an Atkinson Fellowship and wrote a groundbreaking 14-part newspaper series on women and alcohol. But she hadn’t gone public with her own story.  Until now.

In a candid interview, she talks to The Sunday Edition’s Michael Enright about her new book, Drink, the Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. She discusses her personal journey away from drinking, and how a growing number of women face this addiction. To listen to the interview, click the audio icon at the top of this page or on The Sunday Edition’s website.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?