Why Mommy Drinks
Mothers between the ages of 30 and 50 are drinking in record numbers, and alcohol-related deaths for women are reaching an all-time high.
Drunk in the school pickup line. Sloshed at the soccer field. Hammered at the fifth-grade choir concert and blitzed at the PTA meeting. More mothers than ever before are drinking to excess. Addiction experts are calling this the “new mommy culture,” where over-indulging in alcohol is not only socially acceptable, but seen as the new normal.
Stephanie, a petite brunette in yoga pants and Lululemon hoodie who prefers to stay anonymous, knows this all too well. As an Overland Park mother of three kids, all in elementary school, she says she felt more pressure to drink from her mom friends than she ever did in college or high school.
“It’s what all the cool moms do. It’s all about the Wine Wednesdays and Throwback Some Vodka Thursdays and Rosé All Day,” she says. “It’s gotten to the point that a lot of moms’ social media feeds are half about their kids and half drinking posts or memes.”
It took Stephanie picking her kids up from school while she was intoxicated to realize that she had a problem.
“I had gone to a morning PTO planning meeting at a mom’s house and we started drinking “Mom-osas” at 8:45 and then around 10:45 the wine came out. By the time we left to get our kids from school I know we were all drunk,” she says. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m sitting in the school pick line wasted and at least five other moms in this line are also drunk.’ It scared me and I was ashamed.”
Stephanie got help from her family practice doctor, but she says once she stopped drinking she lost friends. “I was told I wasn’t ‘fun’ anymore.”
Dr. Kim Templeton, an orthopedic surgeon who is also an expert on women and addiction and helped create the Sex and Gender Women’s Collaborative, says the current female-centric alcohol culture has her concerned.
“Social media has totally normalized what I think of as binge drinking,” she says. “It’s not just having a drink. It’s getting plastered. What’s normal for drinking and what’s accepted has shifted.”
Social media is deluged with Facebook pages like “Mommy Needs Vodka” and “Mom Truths,” for which its “Why Mommy Needs a Drink” was considered content on the Today Show’s “Parenting Team” website. It features two mothers talking about all the reasons moms should drink, ranging from two-year-olds throwing their toast to kids dumping their Lego bin. The moms also offer advice on how to sneak alcohol into a school event.
Dr. Roopa Sethi, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Kansas Health System, says the education is just not there on how harmful drinking is, especially to women or what constitutes heavy drinking.
“For females more than 7 drinks a week and more than 3 drinks a day is heavy drinking and could potentially predispose women to risk for alcohol problems.”
One drink is measured as a 12-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, high-risk drinking for women has increased by almost 60 percent and women becoming addicted to alcohol has increased by 84 percent. If you’re a white woman with a college degree between the ages of 30 and 50, you’re almost twice as likely to drink daily.
joan tamburini, photo by zach bauman
Joan Tamburini says she could be included in that data. Today she’s approaching her third year of being in “long-term continuous recovery” from an alcohol addiction. Blonde with sparkling blue eyes, Tamburini looks most likely to chair the book fair, not a mother who has been struggling with addiction for years.
“I would pick my mom friends by who was willing to day drink with me,” she says. “I was one of those moms that would be in the carpool line loaded.”
It wasn’t hard for Tamburini to hide her addiction, even though she says she would routinely drink a bottle of Malbec red wine every day. “Woman are experts at creating myths. You make excuses. You make everything seem perfect. That’s your job as a mom to just keep going.”
It also didn’t hurt that moms’ day drinking was considered acceptable or even the “thing to do.” Stephanie says she was part of a group of mothers that would bring “mommy juice” to the soccer field and “pre-game” before their kids’ swim meets.
This is all part of what social scientists call the new ethos, that parenting or “adulting” is hard and alcohol is “mommy’s little helper.”
“I look back,” Stephanie says, “and I’m so embarrassed. At the time, we thought we were hilarious, but it was desperate.”
The desperation is something Templeton understands. She says many women are drinking to self-medicate their stress, depression or anxiety.
“What they see as social consumption is really self-medication,” the doctor says.
Tamburini says she was severely depressed for years and suffered from “resistant depression.” The pharmaceutical prescribed to treat her depression was an amphetamine.
“There I was with my kids in grade school, still trying to make everything seem perfect,” she says. “If it took speed and day drinking to get through every day, then that’s what I did.
Both Stephanie and Tamburini were part of the binge drinking culture that is surging among educated, white women who are 71 percent more likely to binge drink, which is defined as four drinks consumed within two hours. Research from Columbia University goes so far as to call out women born between 1978 and 1983 as the “weekend warriors who are drinking to black out.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 14 million women in the United States binge drink almost three times a month. Current statistic show women are about to outpace men in binge drinking and woman make up more than half of alcohol abusers among college students.
Templeton warns, “This is not an area where we want to look for equality.” She explains that women’s bodies are affected more by alcohol and that drinking is more likely to damage a women’s health than a man’s.
Once a woman acknowledges that she has a drinking problem, Sethi says the hard part is seeking help.
“There’s more of stigma of being a female alcoholic,” Sethi says. “It’s harder for women to allow themselves to go into recovery.”
Tamburini says it took years for her to admit she was an alcoholic. “There’s was a lot of shame and the more shame I felt, the more I drank. I think as women we are taught to numb our discomfort. Our lives can be very superficial and it’s based on a perfection façade.”
Templeton adds that the multi-tasking nature of being a woman and especially a mother makes it hard for a lot of women to admit they even have a health condition. “It can be a real challenge. How do you have time inyour day to get alcohol treatment?”
When Tamburini went public with her struggle she says, “not one of my friends believed me when I told them I was an alcoholic.”
She felt alone. Now, almost three years later, Tamburini says she’s happy. Even though she says she doesn’t get invited to many parties anymore because she’s no longer drinking she's more than okay with that.
“There’s such a liberation in no longer having to be one of those moms.”
WOMEN AND ALCOHOL RISKS
● Women typically start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men because of female physiology. (Less water content in our body mass.)
● Woman are more likely to become alcoholics at a faster rate than men.
● Drinking is more likely to damage a woman’s health than a man’s even if a woman has been drinking less alcohol for a shorter amount of time.
● Women alcoholics have death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than those of male alcoholics.
HEALTH RISKS CAN INCLUDE
● Liver Damage – Women who drink are more likely to develop liver inflammation than men.
● Heart Disease – Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease than men.
● Breast Cancer – Women who have one drink per day also have an increased chance of developing breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink at all.
● Brain Atrophy – Even women who drink moderately have shown shrinkage in the frontal lobe, a loss of cells in the region of the brain that is key to memory and a decline in cognitive function.