NOT enough services are available to cope with the rising tide of women who have alcohol problems in the Lothians, support workers warned today.
Staff at Libra, Scotland's only service designed to cope with women who drink too much, believe that much more needs to be done to help the soaring number of women involved.
The Edinburgh group is now staging a conference to highlight some of the underlying reasons why more women than ever before are hitting the bottle. Workers believe more funding should also be made available to tackle the growing crisis and ensure women looking for help do not have to wait months on a waiting list.
They say more specialist services targeted at women are needed to help them overcome the particular stigma they face.
Alcohol-related deaths among women have risen by more than 200 per cent in the last 20 years, with 532 women dying in 2003.
Irene Cummings, a client liaison officer at Libra, said the group was seeing growing numbers of women looking for help in the Lothians. She said: "To tackle the number of people with alcohol problems, there needs to be more services and more money made available. The number of women who are drinking now are enormous and the rise in the number of women dying is horrifying.
"I think for us to tackle this, we need to remove the barriers stopping women asking for help before it is too late. If they can get the support they need then we might start to make a difference."
Libra believes greater access to alcohol and a greater disposable income are contributing to the huge rise in women drinking.
Ms Cummings said the stigma surrounding alcohol abuse makes women less willing than men to come forward to seek help. "I think society judges women more harshly and women are more worried about the consequences of drinking, and what might happen if they made it public, such as losing their children," she said.
She added: "There tends to be a focus on the ladette image [but] what we are seeing is professional women in jobs or older women who may be isolated."
Libra was established 20 years ago and runs a confidential one-to-one counselling service in which 50 women a week receive help. There is currently a two-month waiting list to see a counsellor and, in the past, women have had to wait up to nine months to get an appointment.
The group, which hopes to expand, has now organised a national conference on October 5 in Edinburgh which is open to professionals, voluntary organisations and members of the public.
Jack Law, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, agreed there was a need for more services for both men and women.
He said: "Women's drinking is increasingly coming under scrutiny because it's seen to be a major problem developing.
"We don't have enough of the right kind of services in the right places and we need to improve that."
Successful but downing three bottles of wine a night
LIVING in her well-kept city flat and holding down a professional job with the council, no-one would have suspected that Jenny* had a drink problem.
Defying the stereotype of the down-and-out drunkard, the 33-year-old was managing to get up every day, meeting deadlines and working successfully with the public.
But when she was going home at night, Jenny was drinking three bottles of wine because she liked the way it made her feel. "I was drinking alone at night, just like Bridget Jones," said the city woman. "It made me feel calm and stopped me worrying about things. With hindsight, I can see I was drinking because I had quite a lot of pain in my childhood and I was trying to numb it. Drinking was like self-medication.
Jenny said she did not drink until after she left university and had a job. It was only when she started earning did she begin to start buying wine at the supermarket. Jenny has been receiving one-to-one counselling at Libra for two years and, although she abstains most of the time, she has relapsed on several occasions.
"Not drinking can be difficult sometimes and I have gone back a couple of times. But when I have I can now think I have made a mistake and I lift myself up and stop again. It's support from Libra that means I can do that."
*not her real name