26 January 2022 In Drinking Patterns

BACKGROUND: A range of societal changes have created positive and encouraging environments for women's alcohol use. Within this context, in Western countries there is evidence of rising rates of alcohol consumption and related harms among midlife and older women. It is timely and important to explore the role of alcohol in the lives of midlife women to better understand observed data trends and to develop cohort specific policy responses. Focussing on Western countries and those with similar mixed market systems for alcohol regulation, this review aimed to identify 1) how women at midlife make sense of and account for their consumption of alcohol; 2) factors that play a role; and 3) the trends in theoretical underpinnings of qualitative research that explores women's drinking at midlife.

METHODS: A meta-study approach was undertaken. The review process involved extracting and analysing the data findings of eligible research, as well as reviewing the contextual factors and theoretical framing that actively shape research and findings.

RESULTS: Social meanings of alcohol were interwoven with alcohol's psycho-active qualities to create strong localised embodied experiences of pleasure, sociability, and respite from complicated lives and stressful circumstances in midlife women. Drinking was shaped by multiple and diverse aspects of social identity, such as sexuality, family status, membership of social and cultural groups, and associated responsibilities, underpinned by the social and material realities of their lives, societal and policy discourses around drinking, and how they physically experienced alcohol in the short and longer term.

CONCLUSION: For harm reduction strategies to be successful, further research effort should be undertaken to understand alcohol's diverse meanings and functions in women's lives and the individual, material, and socio-cultural factors that feed into these understandings. As well as broad policies that reduce overall consumption and "de-normalise" drinking in society, policy-makers could usefully work with cohorts of women to develop interventions that address the functional role of alcohol in their lives, as well as policies that address permissive regulatory environments and the overall social and economic position of women.

25 August 2020 In General Health

The passage of time dictates the pace at which humans and other organisms age but falls short of providing a complete portrait of how environmental, lifestyle and underlying biological processes contribute to senescence. Two fundamental features of the human experience that change dramatically across the lifespan include social interactions and, for many, patterns of alcohol consumption. Rodent models show great utility for understanding complex interactions among aging, social behavior and alcohol use and abuse, yet little is known about the neural changes in late aging that contribute to the natural decline in social behavior.

Here, we posit that aging-related neuroinflammation contributes to the insipid loss of social motivation across the lifespan, an effect that is exacerbated by patterns of repeated alcohol consumption observed in many individuals. We provide a comprehensive review of (i) neural substrates crucial for the expression of social behavior under non-pathological conditions; (ii) unique developmental/lifespan vulnerabilities that may contribute to the divergent effects of low-and high-dose alcohol exposure; and (iii) aging-associated changes in neuroinflammation that may sit at the intersection between social processes and alcohol exposure.

In doing so, we provide an overview of correspondence between lifespan/developmental periods between common rodent models and humans, give careful consideration to model systems used to aptly probe social behavior, identify points of coherence between human and animal models, and point toward a multitude of unresolved issues that should be addressed in future studies.

Together, the combination of low-dose and high-dose alcohol effects serve to disrupt the normal development and maintenance of social relationships, which are critical for both healthy aging and quality of life across the lifespan. Thus, a more complete understanding of neural systems-including neuroinflammatory processes-which contribute to alcohol-induced changes in social behavior will provide novel opportunities and targets for promoting healthy aging.


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