• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Working moms shed light on secret alcoholism

February 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
One group where alcoholism is on the rise: women. An estimated 4 million American women abuse alcohol and many of them have mastered hiding their problem from loved ones.

Meet two women who saved their families by admitting their secret.

Heather Fanning feels lucky. She knows her drinking could have killed her or someone else.

"Around my house there would be stashes and I would drink when people weren't watching," said Fanning.

At her worst Fanning, a working mom, was drinking three shots of vodka, 10 beers and two glasses of wine every day.

According to a federal study, six out of 10 women between the ages 18 and 44 drink alcohol. Female alcoholics have death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than male alcoholics. And the number of women arrested for DUI is up almost 30 percent over the past decade.

Psychologist Barbara Kelly says families need to look more closely for signs of a functioning alcoholic.

"They hide the alcohol in places that they know people wouldn't typically look for it, sometimes even in the nursery where the baby sleeps," said Kelly.

Stay-at-home mom Michelle McClennen kept an immaculate home, took care of two kids and still managed to juggle daily drinking.

McClennen worked with a counselor to kick her habit. Fanning found help through an in-patient addiction center. Both say admitting they needed help was the toughest part.

But these moms are sharing their shame and hoping to reverse the trend of women turning to alcohol.

While the number of women arrested for DUI increased 30-percent in the past decade, men still outnumber them four to one.


ALCOHOLISM: Alcoholism is a chronic disease in which your body becomes dependent on alcohol. People with alcoholism lose control over their drinking. Individuals may not be able to control when they drink, how much they drink, or how long they drink on each occasion. People with alcoholism continue to drink even though they know it causes problems with their work, relationships, health or finances. It is also possible to have problems with alcohol without having all the symptoms of alcoholism. This is known as alcohol abuse, in which a person may drink too much, causing problems in their life even though they are not completely dependent on alcohol.

CAUSES: Physical dependence on alcohol occurs gradually. Over time, drinking too much potentially changes the balance of chemicals in the brain associated with pleasurable aspects of drinking alcohol. Excessive, long-term drinking can affect the balance of these chemicals, causing the body to crave alcohol to restore good feelings or to avoid negative feelings.

HEALTH PROBLEMS: There are numerous health problems caused by excessive drinking. Drinking heavily can cause liver hepatitis, inflammation of the liver which can then lead to cirrhosis. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and increase risk of heart failure or stroke. In men, excessive alcohol can cause erectile dysfunction and in women it can interrupt the menstrual cycle. Over time excessive drinking can cause weakness and paralysis of the eye muscles. Bone loss is another concern because alcohol can interfere with the production of new bone, leading to thinning bones, osteoporosis, and an increased risk of fractures. There are also known neurological effects from excessive drinking. It can affect the nervous system, causing numbness of the hands, feet, disordered thinking, dementia and short-term memory loss.

TREATMENT: Various treatments are available to those with alcoholism. The first step is to determine if a person is alcohol dependent. Detoxification is one way to break the addiction. It generally takes four to seven days and is done at an inpatient treatment center or hospital. The next step is learning skills and establishing a treatment plan. This may include goal setting, behavior modification techniques, use of self-help manuals, counseling and follow-up care at a treatment center. Counseling and therapy for groups and individuals support recovery from the psychological aspects of alcoholism.