Social media feeds are rife with memes depicting exhausted women guzzling wine in giant glasses, with phrases like, “Technically, you’re not drinking alone if your kids are home.” They refer to wine as “mommy juice” or to the hour of “wine o’clock” — a time that mothers look forward to as a way to get through the stress of raising their children.
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.”
Hollywood perpetuates the story line, and celebrities embrace it. The two “Bad Moms” movies celebrated boozy mom culture, Gabrielle Union’s recent book of personal essays is titled “We’re Going to Need More Wine,” and Kelly Clarkson hosts an Instagram video series called “Minute and a Glass of Wine.”
Marketers also are capitalizing on the trend, targeting mothers with products like dish towels and home decor featuring similar sayings. There are even brands of wine with “mommy” in their names.
But for those who have battled addiction, this is no laughing matter.
Kelley Kitley, a mother of four in Oak Park, Ill., appeared to have everything under control. She had her own social work practice and ran marathons. But she also was an alcoholic.
After a childhood growing up above her parents’ bar, where she had a front-row seat to others’ excessive drinking, she pledged to never have a problem herself. Over the years, she would give up drinking for long stretches during her pregnancies, for Lent or just to see if she could.
But her occasional, social binge drinking eventually turned into a bottle-of-wine-a-day habit.
Kitley, 40 and five years sober, said it took her a while to recognize she had a problem because her behavior wasn’t out of line with that of her friends. It seems like “everyone is drinking,” she said, particularly busy moms like her.
Worse for women
Drinking can lead to myriad health problems, Clark said, including cancer, hypertension, stroke and liver failure. And women may be more at risk than men because, according to some studies, they can “develop these things with less alcohol intake over less time,” she said.
Meanwhile, research shows that women are drinking more than in decades past.
One glass of wine a day for women is considered moderate drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clark said.
“Most people don’t know that. They usually are just thinking they are unwinding from the day,” she said. “Drinking can be fun to do socially. But we must be careful with it and drink responsibly.”
The casual references to excessive drinking on social media downplay these problems, said Jim Scarpace, executive director of Gateway Foundation treatment centers in Illinois.
“With social media, there seems to be an openness now to talking about [binge drinking], and even sometimes to celebrate it, which really minimizes the risk,” he said. This can lead some who drink too much to believe, “ ‘This is socially acceptable; this is something people do.’ It can minimize the impact alcohol can have in their life.”
Those who work in addiction acknowledge that for many women, moderate drinking will not develop into a problem, and clever images or remarks on social media referring to a glass of wine to unwind are harmless. But for those at risk, especially those with a genetic predisposition for alcoholism, an alcohol-centric culture can be dangerous, Scarpace said.
Despite the fun portrayed on social media, drinking “isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” said Lori, a recovering alcoholic who asked that her last name not be used. For years, alcohol controlled her life, she said, adding that she is bothered by images that make light of excessive drinking or poke fun at the need to have alcohol.
“Why would you dress that up? You’re just glamorizing things,” said the 43-year-old Chicago mother of three.
Lori, who has been sober 3½ years, said that when she gave up her career to focus more on her family, she felt isolated and turned to drinking. It started out as something to look forward to at the end of a long day of taking care of the kids and the house. But then she began needing a beer at lunch. Soon, she was sneaking down to her basement bar early in the morning to mix a drink before her family woke up.
She checked herself into an inpatient treatment program after a friend’s death made her realize she couldn’t cope without alcohol.
Lori said she feels resentful when she’s around others whose idea of socializing is drinking. It seems that alcohol is the focus of everything, on the internet and in life, from social events with friends to church functions, she said. “I’ve noticed it’s getting worse.”
Parents under pressure
Gabrielle Glaser, author of “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control,” said it’s possible that women feel more pressure than they once did. From demanding homework assignments to increased school security, parenting seems to have gotten more complicated, she said.
The age of social media also heightens a desire to display domestic perfection to the outside world. Because drinking is an accepted practice, it’s easy to fall into the habit of using alcohol as a way to de-stress, she said.
“There’s anxiety around being a mother,” Glaser said, and “binge drinking has become completely normalized” as a way to have fun or blow off steam. “That starts in college and carries through to your first job,” she added, and “it can easily be part of being a mother, as well.”
Kitley said social events centered on drinking, including moms’ nights out, “gave me excuses” to drink.
“The difference was, some of these moms could stop after one or two glasses and drive home,” she said. “I could not. I always took it to a huge extreme.”
Kitley said she decided to join Alcoholics Anonymous after a longtime friend who had recently quit drinking confronted her after noticing that she was hungover at an exercise class. Kitley confided in her friend that while she had wondered if she had a problem, she didn’t think she fit the typical image of an alcoholic.
Kitley said she doesn’t fault those who drink socially or those who joke about wine on social media, but, she added, it can be difficult for those in recovery to find outlets that aren’t focused on alcohol.
“It let me drink for a very long time,” she said.