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How Does Our Culture Normalize Women’s Drinking?

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We all know that our culture tends to normalize drinking. But in recent years, the alcohol industry has targeted women in particular. From social media memes glorifying “mommy wine culture” to the explosion of related merchandise, the normalization is practically inescapable. 

While that messaging alone is concerning, increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic has compounded the problem. During the shutdown, women were faced with a whole new host of stressors and difficult emotions.

Let’s take a closer look at how our culture normalizes maladaptive alcohol use among women, the effects of pandemic drinking, its impact on women’s health, and the best ways to address those factors.

How Women Are Targeted

In a recent interview with Ria Health, therapist Emilie Scovill states, “it’s challenging for women to know and also acknowledge that their relationship with alcohol may not be a healthy one.” They may not be aware of how drinking affects their mental and behavioral health, or its impact on family and the workplace. She discusses how our culture normalizes unhealthy drinking habits and cites the mommy wine culture as an example. 

“Our culture completely normalizes the maladaptive use of alcohol. And we know that women are targeted.”

-Emilie Scovill

Mommy wine culture” validates routine drinking for bored or overwhelmed moms. It’s all about taking the edge off of parenting by drinking wine together as a way to bond and commiserate over the demands of motherhood. These moms are often feeling exhausted from parenting, housework, and possibly working outside the home. And the tendency to reach for a beverage can carry over to their alone time as well.

Our society not only condones, but encourages and glamorizes this behavior through “humorous” memes depicting relatable moms indulging in alcohol. Not to mention the t-shirts, onesies, mugs, and other swag promoting messages like “mama needs wine.” This cultural acceptance makes problematic drinking less noticeable, and may decrease the likelihood that women will seek help if they need it.

The Effect of the Pandemic

Scovill points out that, prior to the emergence of COVID-19, women may have limited their drinking to weekends and special occasions. But due to the stressors of the pandemic, they found themselves drinking more often and in larger amounts. 

From health concerns, to monitoring remote learning, to possible job loss—there were often multiple and serious new stressors that cropped up over that two-year period. 

Many women were dealing with anxiety, depressive issues, and difficulty sleeping. The loss of boundaries between home, school, and work led to a loss of boundaries with alcohol. Drinking became a coping mechanism; a way to tune out reality for a while. 

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Drinking Among Women Is On the Rise

While alcohol use disorder doesn’t discriminate by gender, research indicates that women are more vulnerable than men to the effects of alcohol, due to body structure and chemistry. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), although men often drink greater quantities, women absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it. In fact, after drinking the same amount of alcohol, women’s blood alcohol levels tend to be greater.1 

woman holding glass of wine in front of laptop
Photo by Matilda Wormwood on Pexels

And there are other differences to consider. A Yale University study of sex differences in alcohol use disorder notes “A considerable body of data identifies that women are more likely to drink to regulate negative affect and stress, while men are more likely to drink for alcohol-related positive reinforcement.” The study also cited “Over the past ten years, rates of alcohol use disorder have increased in women by 84%, relative to a 35% increase in men.”2

Read more: How Does Alcohol Impact Men and Women Differently?

How Drinking Impacts Women’s Health 

Alcohol use among women is a serious and growing health concern. Each year, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to 27,000 deaths among women. Rates of alcohol abuse for women continue to rise and, as stated earlier, the COVID era has had a major impact. A 2020 study found that women increased their heavy drinking days by 41 percent during the pandemic.3

Since women absorb alcohol faster than men and metabolize it more slowly, they may appear to get intoxicated faster, blackout more often, and experience worse hangovers. 

Women are also more vulnerable to the associated increased health risks of long-term alcohol consumption—including breast cancer, heart disease, and cirrhosis of the liver. Even women with less severe dependency than men can more quickly develop alcohol-related illnesses. 

Read more: Alcohol and Women’s Health

Barriers To Seeking Help

Oftentimes, women aren’t aware they have a problem. Perhaps they think that as long as they are drinking at home there is no harm in an extra drink or two. While an occasional glass of wine is not usually a problem, an increase in quantity and frequency for coping purposes is a red flag. This is especially true for women who are caring for young children. 

So, why would a woman be reluctant to seek help when she feels a loss of control over her drinking? Every situation is unique, but some of the common barriers that cause women to resist treatment for alcohol issues are social stigma, shame and guilt, lack of childcare or family support, and financial hardship. 

It is common for women to have the role of caregiver in their families. This can make it difficult to admit to a problem and to seek treatment. And they may feel reluctant to open up about the underlying issues that alcohol may be masking. 

Next Steps

For many women, changing daily habits and routines is an effective solution for reducing drinking. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Make time for regular exercise. It is an effective stress reducer. A brisk walk outdoors will produce those feel-good endorphins.4
  • Practice yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises to calm your nervous system. 
  • Strive for a regular bedtime and prepare nutritious meals to improve your energy level and mood. 
  • Replace drinking with alternative social activities like a movie or game night. 

If you find that a change in habits isn’t enough to get you back on track, and are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, Ria Health can help. Whether you want to stop drinking entirely, reduce your alcohol intake, or change your habits, we can assist you with the changes that matter to you—all from an app on your smartphone. Ria offers online coaching, anti-craving medication, digital tracking tools, and more. 

Find out more about how it works, or get in touch with one of our counselors today.

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Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer who believes in the uplifting power of words. She especially enjoys writing about health, relationships, employment, and living one’s best life. Lisa has a Master’s in Education and previously worked in vocational and educational services. Her articles can be found on Your Tango, Thrive Global, Heart to Heart, Medium, Muck Rack, and on various professional websites.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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