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Mommy Drinking Culture Is A Problem and We Need To Talk About

I was on Pinterest, and I happened upon the following image:

mommy juice and other problematic messages to women about drinking
the problem with mommy drinking culture

I know I’ve written about alcohol culture before, but today I fell down a little bit of a rabbit hole.

Once I clicked on the pin, Pinterest began suggesting a whole cache of personalized mommy wine glasses.

One after the other, they flooded my computer screen. All had some variation of the same message: Being a mom is hard. You need to drink to manage.

how we encourage women to drink alcohol to manage their life
wine glasses encouraging mothers to drink alcohol

Sure, plenty of people will say that it’s just a joke. Lighten up. These glasses are meant to be fun.

But are they?

The Rising Rate of Alcoholism in Women

Here are the facts.

In a study published by JAMA Psychiatry, high-risk drinking, defined as four or more drinks per day at least once a week, has increased in women by 60%. Alcohol use disorder increased by a whopping 84%.

The worst part?

Women are dying from alcohol-related deaths at an alarming rate. Between 2007 and 2017, the rate of alcohol-related deaths in women rose by 85%, compared to men whose rates increased by only 29%.

A recent article in USA Today points out that alcohol-related deaths are actually outpacing deaths caused by opiates.

Opioid overdoses kill about 72,000 Americans per year. Alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths per year, but we rarely talk about it. There are no national media exposés on the “alcohol crisis” in America.


alcoholism and women

The Normalization of Alcohol Abuse

In the same article, psychologist Benjamin Miller states, “Culturally, we’ve made it acceptable to drink but not to go out and shoot up heroin. A lot of people will read this and say ‘What’s the problem?'”

We demonize the so-called junkie and celebrate the frat guy doing keg stands at the party.

How many of us in our younger years (or even now) would see the consumption stats of heavy or problematic drinking and think, “Pssssh! That’s a regular Saturday night for me!”

Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more drinks for men.

In my worst drinking days, I EASILY doubled that at least five times per week, and I’m not alone.

Remember that 60% increase?

But we don’t discuss alcohol in that way.

We talk about how “wasted” we got and laugh about it. We praise our drunk shenanigans in songs and party anthems.

These are the fun little tales we tell at gatherings.

Remember that night you got so drunk that you passed out on the stairs with half a slice of pizza in your mouth? Hilarious!

We never say, “Hey, I started drinking pretty regularly around lunchtime on the weekends. Something feels off.”

rise of alcoholism among women

Those thoughts are private, not meant to be shared. You’re not supposed to say those things out loud.

In fact, if we decide to take it easy or quit drinking altogether, we are often looked at as if we’ve grown a third eye.

What do you mean you’re taking a break? Don’t be a loser. Come out with us! We’ll make sure you get home okay. Remember last year when you passed out on the subway and woke up at the airport? Haha. Classic!

It’s silly when you think about it that way, but so many of us continue to do it. Why?

What Is Driving Women To Drink?

The study has offered up a variety of theories.

After the 2008 recession, many people saw a sharp decline in their earning potential and quality of life. Ten years later, people are still grappling with economic uncertainty, which can lead to increased drinking, especially among lower-income people.

Some suggest that while women’s roles in the workforce have increased,  their roles in the home remain relatively the same (as in they carry the brunt of the responsibilities).

This is causing burnout and increased stress levels. We’re finding it difficult to cope.

Marketing Alcohol To Women

Marketing is also playing a role.

Pink bottles of Rosé and Moscato line liquor store displays. “Skinny” brand drink mixes and “light” beer and cider options are constantly seeking to appeal to women customers.

Companies are actively targeting women consumers and capitalizing off the message that drinking is a means for handling life.

Wine is both the solution and the punchline.

The aforementioned wine glasses that started this post, kitschy home decor encouraging wine o’clock, and the increasing prevalence of “mommy drinking culture” all contribute to this problem.

Meanwhile, women are suffering at increasing rates.

The Impact of Alcohol Abuse Among Women

An article from April 2018 in the Chicago Star Tribune examined the rise of mommy drinking culture and its impact.

“From Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to movies and store shelves, a ubiquitous narrative has taken hold in popular culture: that it’s acceptable, expected and funny for moms to use wine to make it through the day. Yet, while many women share these images in jest and don’t have a problem, addiction experts and those who have battled addiction themselves say the trend minimizes the dangers of drinking to excess.

“Mommy’s wine has become a pop culture trend, a marketer’s dream and a hashtag,” said Dr. Crystal Tennille Clark, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine who specializes in women’s health. “I do think we’re losing sight of what a problem [drinking] could be. Many people, whether they’re men or women, don’t appreciate the risks of drinking.”

Exhibit A – See what this stock image is meant to convey?

These messages are pervasive. Suddenly everything about our lives must be accompanied by a bottle of wine?

Painting class? Wine. Playdate? Wine. Kids birthday party? So. Much. Wine.

And the sad part is that we accept it as a fact of life.

This is what it means to be a mother. It’s overwhelming. We need a little escape at the end of the day.

And it is true; we DO need to find space to breathe a little at the end of the day once the kids have gone to sleep. The problem is that we haven’t learned any healthy ways to do this.

Wine is quick. It’s easy. Expected.

Weaving Alcohol Into the Fabric of Our Homes

When we decorate our homes with these “cute” glasses, towels, or rustic signs, we are advertising our dependence on alcohol and poking fun at it.

I get why we do it. Kitschy glasses and wall art is our way of prettying up the problem.

Disney-themed drinking glasses?

A fabulous way to appeal to our inner child who just wants to getaway. Maybe even put a little grape juice in one of these glasses for your eight-year-old daughter, so she can “have some too.”

What is that teaching her?

Mommy drinking culture and novelty wine glasses
Disney wine glasses promoting alcohol

Being a mom is tough. That’s why we get to have wine! It makes us happy. We NEED it to be happy. Because we are moms. This is what women do when they get together, after all!

To you, it may be a silly little glass, but there’s a deeper, uglier reality beneath the joke.

Think about why these signs, memes, glasses, t-shirts, etc., are funny. It’s because you’re connecting to the message on some level, and laughing about it helps take the weight off.

If they sold pill packs that said “mommy’s little helper” on them, would we laugh at them the same?

Of course, we wouldn’t. Right?

How We Influence Our Children’s Perception of Alcohol

Aside from the impact mommy drinking culture has on our own well-being, it’s also worth noting that we are teaching our children about alcohol with our behavior.

Especially our girls.

Life is hard. Wine helps!

What happens when she starts to feel the pressures of being a young woman in this crazy world and is looking for a way to cope?

There’s a wise saying by James Baldwin, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

You can’t reasonably expect to teach your kids about responsible drinking from a dining room table with a sign that says “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” hanging on the wall. They’re smarter than that.

Recognizing When Our Relationship With Alcohol Has Gone Bad

If you’re being honest with yourself, how much alcohol are you consuming on a regular basis? Because the reality is, our drinking catches up to us, one way or another.

Maybe you aren’t getting DUI’s or embarrassing yourself in front of your kids (too much), but if you are a heavy drinker, which is defined as eight or more drinks per week, you’re putting yourself at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, certain cancers, and psychological disorders.

Think about that for a second.

How many people easily consume that per week and think nothing of it? Per week? Shoot, that was me every day on the weekends.

We’ve normalized problematic drinking to the point where we see the statistics on what constitutes “excessive drinking” and scoff.

Don’t be ridiculous. Everybody drinks that much!

That may be true in some circles, but let’s talk about why it’s still problematic.

There’s a quiz at the end of this article if you want to see if your current drinking habits put you at risk for alcohol dependence or even fall into that risky zone of gray area drinking.

The Negative Effects of Heavy Drinking On Your Body

In addition to battling crippling hangovers that only seem to worsen with age, alcohol has a major impact on your waistline.

Most people know that excessive drinking causes weight gain, but I have some bad news for you, my friend. You don’t even need to drink heavily to feel the effects on your favorite skinny jeans.

belly fat and weight gain from alcohol
Alcohol causes cortisol spikes which lead to belly fat

When you consume alcohol, your body stops burning fat to process the alcohol. What happens to that fat? Well, it goes to storage.

From there, alcohol consumption starts a ripple effect of making poor food choices, indulging in calorically high cocktails and drafts, and becoming increasingly sedentary.

Alcohol Consumption & Cancer

Smoking causes lung cancer at an alarming rate. We know that and (rightly) encourage people to quit smoking and live healthier lives.

But alcohol consumption also increases cancer risks, and those are rarely talked about.

According to a recent study, women who consume three alcoholic beverages per week have a 15% higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who don’t drink at all. 

That risk increases by 10% for each additional drink that a woman has per day. If you’re someone who drinks two glasses of wine every day, do that math.

If you’ve already done battle with breast cancer, drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer returning in women who had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

Alcohol consumption in ANY quantity has been shown to increase the risk of other cancers such as head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

It’s not harmless.

Be honest with yourself about your drinking.

If you find yourself getting caught up in all the mommy drinking stuff, do a personal inventory of your drinking.

  • How much are you drinking?
  • WHY do you drink?
  • How important is drinking alcohol to your life?

If you’re drinking every day, or more than three drinks per week, or self-medicating stress and overwhelm with alcohol, these are warning signs of a potential problem.

If you feel like you “overdo it” too often or wake up the day after drinking with a mountain of regret, you have some things to work on.

And I want to help.


For Women and Moms Who “Need” To Drink

As cliché as it sounds, the first step really is admitting there’s a problem. Just because everyone around you shares the same problem doesn’t diminish its impact or severity.

And the good news is that people are getting hip to it.

More women are waking up and saying, “Actually, this is wrong. I’m not happy living like this.”

What a relief! It means you’re not alone.

Sobriety is trending.  As more people speak up, the conversation gets a little louder and more widespread. Words like “sobriety” become less shameful.

People read blogs like this one and decide to challenge their previously held beliefs about the role of alcohol in their life.

Maybe there’s a better way.

If you’re looking for a supportive community to help you unpack some of this stuff, the private Soberish Facebook Group is an excellent resource. It’s made up of kind, supportive people who want you to succeed.

Join us!

The AUDIT Quiz

The Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test is an assessment used to determine your risk for alcohol dependence. It is for informational purposes only and not an official medical diagnosis. If you’re concerned about your drinking habits, book an appointment with a doctor or counselor.

Welcome to your Alcohol Use (AUDIT) quiz

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

A unit of alcohol is one standard drink. Examples of one standard drink include:

  • 12 oz can of beer with about 5% alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of spirits like vodka, rum, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

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  1. yes yes yes x10000 yes. do you follow tellbetterstories2018 on instagram? They do a really great job of calling out companies that try to profit from advertising this kind of thing…so frustrating…i also really hate the idea of parents blaming their kids for their alcohol abuse. it’s so unfair to a child. 🙁 i know i waited until i had stopped drinking for at least a year to have my girl because I never wanted her to feel like it was her ‘fault’ that i was or wasn’t drinking, you know? Thanks for sharing this article. hugs from Vegas

    1. Thank you for this! I have not heard of them, but will add them. I am admittedly horrible at keeping up with Instagram as the whole follow/unfollow games people play on there drive me nuts and I’ve found Pinterest a better tool, BUT, I will jump on there to check them out. I am really interested in their work. THANK YOU for pointing me in their direction 🙂

  2. Very well written and thought provoking.

    I actually drink (drank) MORE after the kids were older…..they are now mid-20’s. My eldest might be able to drink me under the table … my youngest, no way. Lately, however, I have drastically cut down, as my stomach felt like the vodka was carving a hole into it. Not good. Not worth it.

    1. Thank you for sharing that! Rooting for you to get on a better track and that your stomach issues get better soon!