Scourge of the Chardonnay Housewives
Money worries are driving Irish women to the bottle
THE epidemic of 'chardonnay housewives' is on the rise.
Professional middle-aged Irish women and homemakers are turning to alcohol and over-the-counter drugs to help cope with financial strains, experts have warned.
Waiting lists for rehab centres have rocketed and affluent women are among the majority of those looking for help.
The 40-something mums who secretly sip wine or pop painkillers have taken over the typical stereotype image of a down-and-out heroin addict or alcoholic.
But many more are falling through the cracks as their families and friends fail to recognise the problems, health officials have warned.
The issue has been unofficially dubbed the 'chardonnay housewives' to describe women who slip into alcohol dependence without realising it.
Research suggests that there are also a significant number of women abusing medications such as the painkiller codeine.
Experts in addiction counselling believe that the problem may be related to severe financial difficulties.
The most recent national research available from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System shows that the numbers entering treatment for codeine as a problem drug have increased from 40 in 1998 to 180 in 2009.
And between the years 1998 and 2007, codeine, either alone or in conjunction with another drug, was implicated in the cause of 90 fatal poisonings.
A doctor specialising in addiction, Gareth McGovern, from the Priority Medical Clinic in Dublin said that there are growing numbers of female clients with addiction problems.
"We are seeing similar aged women with a codeine addiction - which is the likes of drugs with ibuprofen. These women would be in their late 30s or 40s," he told the Herald.
"I don't think people take those drugs initially as drugs of abuse but they end up liking the effect and find very difficult to come off it.
"Alcohol addiction is across the spectrum but the pattern of women of drinking in that age group is somewhat different that younger age group.
"They are at home and alone, they are drinking in isolation and there is an increased suicidal risk. No doubt that the economic climate is causing a worsening of the situation."
The Tiglin Rehabilitation Centre has a growing waiting list. The organisation believes that this may be the legacy from the post-boom years, with people turning to substance abuse as they try to deal with money problems.
"Our waiting lists since last year have really, really gone through the roof so I am not sure whether that's an overflow of the Celtic Tiger or where that's coming from," Mr Thompson told the Herald.
"You have to understand that the women's centre was in existence for six years previously and it's never had such a long waiting list as it does now, so I would presume that (the economy) is a contributing factor to it," he said.
The organisation has now opened a new rehab centre in Ashford in Co Wicklow which accommodates 12 women and already has a waiting list of 12.
The programme accommodates women as young as 18 with drug or alcohol addictions.
A significant minority have been homeless.
Mr Thompson spoke of a recent case involving a woman who slipped into alcohol dependence without realising it.
The woman had engaged in "social, sitting at home, bottle of wine" kind of drinking which "would be different to someone you might see begging at a bank machine", he said.
He added: "It crosses all boundaries. She was on the verge of homelessness because people don't want to have too much of that around their life so while she may not have hit the same level of chaos as other ladies that are with us she did hit a point in her life where she looked for help."
Tiglin's residents complete practical modules in horticulture, cookery, crafts and money management skills. A total of 10 months is spent at the centre in Wicklow and a further six months is spent in a re-entry house in Co Kildare.