Women and alcohol have a complicated relationship. When I wrote my thesis in the 1990s on how women are portrayed in advertising, I found that women were more likely to be portrayed as submissive characters to the dominant male lead. Now let’s fast forward to the present where advertisers have capitalized on the empowerment and increased buying power of women — specifically when it comes to alcohol.
Despite alcohol’s health risks such as breast cancer, heart and liver disease, domestic violence, sexual assaults and drunk driving-related accidents, we are significantly more exposed to the glamorization of alcohol today than our mothers were.
By focusing on the “mommy drinking culture,” today’s mainstream and social media are experts at glorifying the way women bond over alcohol. Glossy magazines splash images of chic, sophisticated and partying women holding martini glasses. Television ads feature attractive celebrities who tell us how whiskey or beer is not just for the men anymore. And if that doesn’t draw you in, very relatable selfies of harried-looking moms cradling a glass of wine flood social media feeds with quips like “mother’s little helper,” “mommy juice” and “whine time is wine time.”
Alcohol is clever at creeping into the daily rituals of motherhood: a flute of mimosa during a play date, a Bloody Mary after a morning walk with the ladies, an after-work beer with a co-worker, a glass of wine while cooking dinner, or a sipper of port while decompressing from the day with the spouse after the kids are put to bed.
There is an abundance of alcohol-related activities directed our way: Moms and Mimosas, Moms Night Out, Sip and Shop, Vinyasa and Vino, Margarita Monday and Wine Down Wednesday to name some common examples. Not to mention blogs and Pinterest posts galore that discuss how to pair alcohol with typical mom-related stuff, such as Girl Scout cookies with wine. And then there’s the fashionable wine purse holder — you know, so you can inconspicuously bring wine anywhere, even a PTA meeting!
When did we get to the point where we couldn’t enjoy time with our families, friends, and co-workers without having a “social lubricant” to nudge things along?
I rarely drink, and because of my professional inclination to study human behavior, I naturally am put into the place of an observer. And I can clearly see why women and alcohol have an “it’s complicated” relationship status. Alcohol is used as a way to relax, socialize, escape, celebrate and, at times, self-medicate from the stress that comes with daily life. Here’s where the complicated part comes in: alcohol can do more harm than good to our overall health.
Ann Dowsett Johnson, author of Drink: A Woman’s Intimate Relationship with Alcohol, says that women drink to numb emotional pain. Venting over a cocktail with peers about the constant struggle for personal and professional life balance can provide a sense of belonging, compassion, and relief that we are “normal.” It can also mask what women truly desire: reprieve from self-doubt about all of life’s challenges.
Female drinking patterns are catching up to our male counterparts, and that’s a problem. While our emotional feelings of empowerment are evolving, our physiological response — the rate at which we metabolize alcohol — remains the same, creating more health problems for us than for men.
For example, the cirrhosis death rate among women aged 45-64 from 2000 to 2015 rose by 57 percent compared to 21 percent among men in the same age group. And an estimated 5.3 million U.S. women now have alcohol use disorder.
As a holistic psychotherapist, I have come to this clear conclusion: women need a healthier, more fulfilling relationship with ourselves, our community and alcohol, one that does not cross over to alcohol dependence. And we need to hold the alcohol industry accountable for its glamorization of drinking through advertising.
Conscious drinking will go a long way in creating a healthier community for women, and thus healthier individuals. If you are concerned that you have a problem with alcohol, please seek support before it gets the best of you.
Aimee Le Zakrewski Clark is a licensed holistic marriage and family therapist, and writer. She has a private practice in San Diego at www.thegrowthvigilante.com.