Alcohol consumption among American women was already rising at a historic rate before the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020. The additional day-to-day stresses brought on by this global pandemic have fueled the growing trend of mothers using alcohol as a coping mechanism. This seemingly harmless behavior has created a “Wine Mom” lifestyle, which in reality is a slippery slope that can lead to alcoholism.
What Exactly is Wine Mom Culture?
There’s a strong likelihood you have heard the term “Wine Mom” before, in the news, on social media, or perhaps even on shopping sites like Etsy, which features an extensive listing of Wine Mom-themed items for sale. The Wine Mom ethos takes responsibly enjoying an alcoholic beverage at the end of the day a risky step further, promoting the idea that medicating with wine can ease the stresses of parenthood.
Wine Mom-inspired memes and viral videos across social media have played a role in popularizing this carefree but alarming behavior. Popular television shows like Cougar Town and characters like Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth portray the Wine Mom archetype as harmless, almost necessary fun. Those stereotypes, however, contrast noticeably with characters on Mad Men or Shameless, where men’s drinking is portrayed as being more reckless and having real-world consequences.
Unlike television, which offers a cushion of acceptance around irresponsible, excessive drinking by women, the real-world data around moms and alcohol shows a different, more serious look at alcohol abuse, especially since the arrival of COVID-19.
Why Are More Women Engaging in Pandemic Drinking?
The demanding role of being a mother was already stressful before the pandemic. With the shutdown of schools, offices, and playgrounds, some moms have had to adapt and take on new parental responsibilities and obligations, like devoting attention to their child’s new homeschooling format, on top of the busy schedule of a professional career (for those who have been fortunate enough to maintain their jobs). These new sacrifices are made that much more difficult by the fact that many of the once-daily routines and stress-relieving leisure activities are also no longer an option for the time being.
Researchers are finding the added stresses brought on by life in quarantine have played a major role in more women turning to wine (or other forms of alcohol) to relax and maintain emotional balance. According to a study by CARE, women have been disproportionally impacted, with women reporting almost three times as many significant mental health consequences than men. These side effects of the pandemic include anxiety, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, and trouble completing everyday tasks. Women with children under the age of 18 were most affected.
Another recent survey conducted by the RAND Corporation found overall alcohol consumption among all adults over age 30 increased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, while women who participated in the study showed a 41 percent increase in their heavy drinking (four or more drinks in one sitting) over the one-year span.
Women Are Less Likely to Seek Addiction Treatment
This troubling data adds to the pre-existing findings that women are less likely to seek addiction treatment out of fear of the stigma surrounding parents with substance abuse problems. Some mothers also worry about what might happen if they step away from their children and household for the length of time needed to seek treatment – not to mention the difficult financial situation facing many families as a result of the pandemic, complicating their ability to afford proper healthcare.
“The pressures of motherhood can take an especially heavy toll on women. Because women tend to feel guilty for addressing their own needs or for feeling like they are neglecting their families, they may dismiss getting treatment,” says Tracy Maestrone, Recovery Coach at Mountainside. “Many mothers are afraid to share their insecurities with others, which can lead to a spiral of isolation and exhaustion. Women need to know that there are services out there that do understand the special needs of women, including moms.”
What Are the Signs of Problem Drinking?
Picking up on the red flags of emerging alcoholism in a close friend or loved one became much more difficult over the past year with so many people isolated at home. As more states begin to reopen and social gatherings become the norm again heading into the summer months, it is important to keep an eye out for the signs of potential alcoholism in mothers – or anyone for that matter. Those signs include:
- Facial redness
- Brittle hair and nails
- Declining hygiene
- Confusion, clumsiness, and lack of hand-eye coordination
- Extended periods behind locked doors or in the bathroom
- Trying to mask the scent of alcohol (whether it be chewing gum or putting on excess deodorant or fragrance)
- Lack of social interaction, even while social distancing
- Irritability and mood swings
- Dishonesty/elaborate storytelling
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain depending on the way they drink
- Financial problems (i.e. asking for cash to cover their needs)
- A yellowish tint to their eyes or skin – this is a serious sign of liver damage
While television often portrays Wine Moms in a certain comedic light, there are plenty of real-life mothers who have found the strength to address their addiction and achieve sobriety. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who was raised by a drug and alcohol-addicted mother, has been in recovery from alcoholism for over two decades. Singer Jessica Simpson is another example of a famous mom who sought treatment and got sober in 2017 after struggling with alcohol.
Whether the journey to sobriety starts with Alcoholics Anonymous, rehab, or counseling, recovery takes support. Helping women find the tools and resources they need to address their addiction is critical. After all, even the strongest of mothers need help sometimes.