Alcohol, Gender and the Unique Situation for Canadian Armed Forces Personnel

November 26, 2021 - Defence Stories

Often, unhealthy alcohol use is depicted in media and society as associated primarily with men; but the gender gap in substance use disorders is narrowing. When coupled with the trend of increased drinking habits during the pandemic, it is raising alarm bells.

Women in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have unique issues to contend with: stressful work, deployments, re-engaging after deployments, working in a male dominated environment, challenges with work-family balance and parenting.  These and other emotional life events might lead one to increase their use of alcohol to cope or self-medicate.

In addition, research indicates women's dependency on alcohol and other substances is often linked to suffering from issues such as partner violence, childhood abuse and trauma, and sexual assault. Further, drinking levels among women are often influenced by two other factors – their partner's drinking patterns and/or chronic conflict/stress in their relationships.

The CAF culture with respect to drinking has shifted quite a bit in the past couple of decades, but some people in the CAF may use alcohol in order to feel accepted and like they belong within their units. We must continue to work toward a CAF in which no member feels that drinking alcohol is necessary to be part of the team.

It is important to recognize the difference between harmful ‘self-medicating’ and productive ‘self-care’. Alcohol may seem to work as short-term relief due to its sedative effect on the brain, but while it can appear to relieve stress making you feel more relaxed, alcohol is a depressant and can actually increase your anxiety and depression. If you are turning to alcohol to cope when you are overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed – consider seeking out other, healthier ways to cope and employ multiple self-care strategies before reaching for that glass of wine.

The reasons for alcohol overuse vary among women – a tough day at work, stressful parenting, and/or the need to cope, relax and calm nerves, or dull anxiety and depression. Women with other marginalized and/or intersecting factors may be at an increased risk of alcohol overuse. There are so many forms of healthy self-care available, in lieu of alcohol– the list is long and depends on each individual’s preferences - examples are hot baths, yoga, gardening, massages, exercise classes, mindfulness, socialising with friends or family, and long walks in nature as alternate options to alcohol. 

Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website) were developed to help Canadians moderate their alcohol consumption. Women tend to be more susceptible than men to health problems caused by heavy drinking so these guidelines can be very helpful to monitor use and help reduce the health risks of drinking alcohol, by increasing awareness of:

Regardless of gender, using alcohol to cope is not self-care. The CAF has many resources that can help you or a loved one deal with concerns about stress levels, unhealthy coping strategies, or alcohol use. Reach out to those who can help you find strategies that will work for you. You do not have to do this alone.

CAF Resources

CF Health Services is the provider of health care services for eligible CAF members. Locate a centre anywhere in Canada and abroad. Where service providers are unavailable, members may be referred to local community programs and services.

The CFMAP offers confidential, voluntary, short term counselling to assist CAF members and their families with resolving many of today's stresses at home and in the work place.
Phone: 1-800-268-7708 (available 24/7)
TTY - Hearing Impaired Line:1-800-567-5803 (available 24/7)

Access information on the many medical and mental health care, support for members and families.

Resources such as helpful videos, support options, and tip sheets for improved communication within relationships.

The Family Information Line is a confidential, personal, bilingual, and free service offering information, support, referrals, reassurance, and crisis management to the military community.
Phone: 1-800-866-4546

All bases provide a 24/7 chaplaincy, listening, and support service. If you don’t have a contact number near you, please call the family information line, which will redirect you to a chaplain in your area.

The SMRC offers round the clock, bilingual, confidential support services to CAF members who are affected by sexual misconduct. Counsellors are available to discuss resources and options to meet individual needs.
Phone: 1-844-750-1648 (available 24/7)

LifeSpeak is an online health and wellness platform that includes videos, podcasts, action plans and “Ask the experts” sessions on various subjects that will provide you with insights to help you manage your mental health. LifeSpeak is accessible confidentially, 24/7, from anywhere you are.

Live an addiction-free lifestyle with information related to cannabis, alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming, and tobacco consumption.

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