As women’s use of alcohol has increased, social norms and expectations seem to have adjusted to align with the new reality. Past taboos about the appropriateness of overconsumption and booze-related tomfoolery have gradually been eroded. Previous double standards in this area that condemned women for doing what men were routinely doing certainly won’t be missed. But when statistics show declines in binge drinking and DUI incidents among men have been matched by increases of such behavior in women, whatever is happening is clearly cause for concern.
With greatly increased awareness of the risks associated with drunk driving and a popular culture inundated with confessionals and fictional presentations detailing the ravages of alcoholism, we might expect alcohol abuse to be going out of fashion. But this has not been the case, and if men are drinking a bit less overall, women are more than making up for that decline.
In addition to soaring rates of binge drinking and DUI arrests, it is now estimated that about one-third of all alcoholics in the United States are female. To put this number in perspective, four decades ago only about 10 percent of American alcoholics were women.
Studies have shown that college-age women are out-drinking their male counterparts, at least in the category of binge drinking. In addition, married women are out-drinking non-married women, and women with high-paying jobs are consuming more alcohol than other female demographic groups. Companies that sell alcohol products and the advertisers they employ have picked up on this shift in the makeup of their customer bases, which explains why the number of female-oriented alcohol ads appearing online, on television and in print has increased exponentially.
Coping With Stress
Even among moms, it seems that drinking has become increasingly accepted as a strategy for coping with the stress and fatigue of child-rearing. Books with titles like Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, The Three-Martini Playdate and Reasons Mommy Drinks have praised the “healing” capacities of alcohol for stressed-out and overwhelmed moms. Meanwhile, Facebook groups with names like “Moms Who Need Wine” and “OMG I So Need a Glass of Wine or I’m Going to Sell My Kids” have become highly popular.
These books and social media sites are largely satirical and much of their advice for beleaguered moms is offered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But the behavior they refer to is actually quite common in the real world, and if they resonate at all with their audience it is because they bear at least some resemblance to the way many moms do in fact try to cope with their busy lives.
Humorous looks at America’s drinking culture may have some entertainment—and possibly even educational—value. But they also might unintentionally encourage a somewhat blasé attitude about drinking, and that could be dangerous to the extreme. Problem drinking is a stealth disorder that sneaks up on its victims and turns their lives upside down gradually and progressively. Moms may start out with an occasional glass of wine or two at the end of the day to relax and unwind. But over time those two glasses of wine may become three or four, and one or two days of late-night drinking per week can morph into a daily ritual. Eventually the liquor turns harder and the drinking is no longer limited to the nighttime hours. At this point, alcoholism is a substantial risk, if not already a reality, and if moms in this situation don’t get help to control their drinking, the results could be disastrous and irrevocable. When alcohol consumption is treated lightly or casually, this is exactly what can and will happen — to moms and to anyone else who makes excuses to explain away her drinking.
Alcoholism Breaks Hearts, Minds, Bodies and Families
Psychologists say women drink mostly to help themselves cope with or forget negative emotions. But this is the classic example of compounding one problem with another. Because of their biology, women can slip into alcoholism following shorter periods of continuous exposure to alcohol, and they are far more likely to suffer serious health problems such as stroke, heart disease, dementia or liver disease as a result of regular alcohol consumption. However, no one is doomed to fall into alcoholism simply because he or she chooses to drink on occasion. Alcohol can be used safely and with restraint, and less than 20 percent of people who drink will ever develop a true drinking problem.
But studies show more than 10 percent of American children grow up in homes where at least one parent is alcohol-dependent. Obviously, many of these parents are mothers, and the damage they are doing to their kids is real and quite possibly permanent.
Alcohol abuse is serious business, for both problem drinkers and the people with whom they share their lives. There is nothing benign or normal about it, and moms who fail to monitor or control their drinking behavior could be setting themselves and their families up for heartbreak and tragedy.