Mommy Drinking: How Wine-Mom Culture Has Normalized Alcohol Misuse

mommy drinking

If you’re a mom, it’s hard to escape the “wine mom” memes, the ones that lightheartedly encourage you to drink because, woman, kids are tough.  Mommy drinking is real.

There’s a Facebook page with over 700,000 followers called “Moms Who Need Wine.” Mothers kid that it’s always “wine o’clock,” get together for boozy play dates, and often fill the lonely, challenging hours with their little ones with an alcoholic drink in hand. One popular meme jokingly recommends a mom consume different types of alcohol/amounts based on her child’s behavior – the worse the behavior, the stiffer the drink.

But are these memes funny? Is mommy drinking and wine-mom culture a harmless portrayal of the challenges of motherhood or indicative of a more serious problem?

Here at Gatewell, we’re concerned. We’ve seen plenty of mothers over the years who developed alcohol use disorders, beginning with using alcohol to unwind or cope with stress. Drinking to self-medicate often turns to over-drinking. In fact, 18% of women of child-bearing age engage in binge drinking behavior.

Moms might drink because  babies are difficult, toddler tantrums are impossible, and helping with homework is tough. They might drink because staying at home with their children is isolating or boring or because being a working mom is stressful and causes them to feel guilty, as if they’re perpetually failing in at least one arena. They might drink because they don’t have time to take care of themselves, to do all of those noble, helpful self-care activities everyone recommends to them and because, let’s face it, alcohol works to relax us and calm us down. They might drink because balancing the demands of children, a partner (or doing it alone), and extended family is just too much. A 2013 study  by Caron Treatment Centers revealed the top five reasons that moms drink: “1) Stress or anxiety, 2) Romantic relationships, 3) Pressure from family or friends, 4) Traumatic experience, and 5) A general feeling of boredom.”

It might start out with a glass of wine at the end of the day as a reward or a tool to cope with stress. Some might notice the glass turning into two, then more. The drinking might become habitual with the feeling that one has to drink to in order to relax or unwind, to cope, or to fall asleep. These are important red flags. Moms might notice that they’re saying yes to social invitations with thoughts of drinking in mind. They might recognize that afternoons or evening are that much easier with a drink in hand.

Moms rationalize that life is hard, that the demands are seemingly endless, that other mothers get it. Some might be able to keep a full-blown alcohol use disorder at bay. Others might develop signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse, couched underneath socially sanctioned mom behavior – “I’m mommy drinking, just like everyone else.” This type of drinking might slip under the radar at first. We’re not typically thinking of a couple of glasses of wine consumed on the couch, Netlfix on the tv, phone in hand as a problem. We’re not thinking that the fact that there must be alcohol at a child’s birthday party is that big of a deal. In the same way that diet culture has made it that so many are unaware that they’re engaging in disordered eating, wine-mom culture normalizes problem drinking.

If you notice that you need a drink to unwind or to cope with life’s daily challenges, that’s a problem. If you notice that you can’t enjoy social gatherings or play dates without a glass in hand, that’s a problem. If you notice that you’re self-medicating your emotions – your anxiety or stress, your sadness, loneliness or boredom – this, too, is a problem.

Alcohol, while legal, is a powerful, toxic substance in the wrong hands (e.g., those with a predisposition to  substance use disorders) and when used in the wrong ways (e.g., to self-medicate). Check yourself. Just because most moms do it – or joke about it – doesn’t mean it’s right for you. More, your kids are watching. Moms we’ve worked with over the years have either stated their kids don’t recognize their problem drinking or have acknowledged the truth, that they do. Before things get worse, as they will, please get help.

And finally, for those moms who have identified a drinking problem, those jokes about mommy drinking, those wine-mom memes are tough. We encourage mindfulness about how your communications impact others who are coping with alcohol use disorders. Your offhand, Instagram joke might highlight and intensify another woman’s battle.