You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing evidence of the mommy wine culture. T-shirts, wall art, and kitchen towels remind us that it’s “wine o’clock somewhere.” You can attend a “sip and see” for your friend’s new baby, enjoy a glass of boutique-branded pinot while you shop, or even BYOB anywhere you want in a wine tote disguised as a handbag.
Wine brings us together, right? Would we really meet to paint pictures, arrange flowers, play bunco, trade ornaments, or talk about books if there wasn’t wine to be sipped? We bond over our cabernet like men bond over a missed extra point late in the fourth.
It’s everywhere in pop culture. The TODAY Show’s Kathie Lee and Hoda may have started it, day drinking from their enormous wine glasses, but a host of fictional favorites, like Claire Dunphy, Carrie Matheson, Skyler White, and Olivia Pope, have kept the vino, and the message, flowing. The message? Life is better with wine.
But, ladies, are we taking it too far?
An article by Harvard Medical School psychiatry professors Dawn Sugarman, PhD, and Shelly Greenfield, MD, MPH, titled Women, Alcohol, and Covid-19, reports that women’s alcohol use has been on the rise for some time.
One study found that between 2001-2013, the number of women drinkers increased by 16% while women’s heavy drinking days increased 58% (compared to 16% in men.) Further, the article states that last year, during the pandemic, women’s heavy drinking days increased 41% over pre-pandemic figures.
It’s not uncommon for alcohol use to increase after traumatic events. Usage also went up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and hurricane Katrina. With the pandemic, there has been a disproportionate increase in women’s drinking as compared to men.
It’s not hard to understand why. Women used to their kids and spouses being at school and work all day suddenly found themselves having everyone confined to home. Keeping everyone safe and healthy while also coordinating virtual school, Zoom meetings, and life without extracurricular activities has added a lot of work and stress to women’s lives.
Add in the ease of obtaining alcohol through delivery services and we’ve built ourselves a very slippery slope.
We tend to downplay the health risks. On one hand, one can buy into the French Paradox, which explores why the French have lower rates of cardiovascular disease despite a diet high in fatty foods and regular red wine consumption.
While a little red wine may help the heart, recent research shows there is no safe amount of drinking in terms of brain health. A study by the American Institute for Cancer Research found that even one glass of wine a day increases breast cancer risk, but the risk can be cut by 33% by not drinking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Weight loss is a major issue for so many women, yet we are so hesitant to take the one action that might help the most: reduce or quit drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, so it slows down our bodily systems, including metabolism.
Alcohol is also fuel, containing 7 calories per gram, so if the body is burning fuel from alcohol, it’s not burning stored fat. Of course, no one wants to drink wine without some cheese and crackers, so add those calories into your tracker, too!
You may drink because you learned it from your parents. Drinking, and alcoholism, runs in families. If your children see that alcohol is a necessary ingredient for a good time, you can bet they will grow up to be drinkers, too, so modeling responsible drinking behavior in front of your kids is important.
If you think it might be time to wine down, here are some questions to ask yourself. You might want to use these questions as journal prompts as you explore making a change.
1. Is your drinking a habit or an addiction?
Dr. Schramm-Sapyta, an associate professor in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, explained in a Duke Medical School podcast, that the difference between a habit and an addiction is “a habit is something we do out of convenience. We do it without thinking, and it makes things easier for us, or else we enjoy it. An addiction is something that we do over and over again, despite causing harm to our lives.”
Assess your drinking within these terms. Is it something you enjoy without consequence or is it harming you or causing problems in your life? If you think you have an addiction, it is best that you seek treatment from a mental health professional.
2. What is your “why?”
This question digs a little deeper. Why do you enjoy drinking? What benefit do you get from your habit? Psychologists say it’s important to understand your “why” when approaching behavior change. Do you drink to relieve stress? To mask social anxiety? To escape boredom? To battle depression? To feel a part of the crowd? Identifying your “why” will help you create action steps if you decide to cut back or stop drinking.
3. How is drinking serving you?
Once you identify your “why,” ask yourself what payoff you get from drinking. Is the stress relief or the fun night worth the result? If you are a heavy drinker, the hangovers, loss of sleep, expense, health risks, and poor modeling behavior may indicate that drinking is not serving you well. Another way to look at this question is to envision the person you want to be. Does drinking fit in with your vision?
4. What does decreasing your drinking look like?
Examine how much you are currently drinking– honestly. Then decide on action steps. Will you drink less each day or increase your non-drinking days? Will you limit your drinking to social occasions or to within your own home? Or are you ready to stop altogether
5. How will you track your progress?
It’s important that you maintain autonomy in this process. Make yourself the priority and be accountable to yourself. With that said, choose a method for tracking your progress. You can keep track on a calendar, a journal, or an app, or put money equivalent to your drinking expense in a savings account and watch it grow.
6. What is your support system?
While behavior change is most successful when you make changes for yourself rather than others, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a good support system. Encouraging family and friends, a clergyperson or therapist, online groups, or programs like AA can provide good support.
Avoid people who will tempt you to drink with them and places or events that you strongly associate with drinking.