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 all moms apparently 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 a glass — or more — of 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 storyline, and celebrities embrace it. Trips to the movie theater to see “Bad Moms” and its sequel, which celebrated boozy mom culture, were common “moms night out” gatherings. 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, pop culture’s fascination with moms and wine is no laughing matter.
Kelley Kitley was a seemingly successful wife and mother of four in Oak Park, Illinois, who had her own social work practice and ran marathons.
She also was an alcoholic.
After a childhood growing up above her parents’ bar in Lincoln Park, 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 Kitley’s occasional, social binge drinking eventually turned into a bottle-of-wine-a-day habit.
Despite studying addiction as a graduate student, Kitley, now 40 and five years sober, said it took her a while to recognize she had a problem and seek help.
It seems like “everyone is drinking,” she said, particularly busy moms like her.
Drinking alcohol can lead to myriad health problems, Clark said, including cancer, hypertension, stroke and liver failure. And women, who research shows are drinking more than in decades past, 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.
Many people don’t realize that just one glass of wine a day for women is considered moderate drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 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 only downplay these problems, said Jim Scarpace, executive director of Gateway Foundation treatment centers in Aurora and Joliet.
“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 and those who have faced it 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. For years, alcohol controlled her life, she said, adding that she doesn’t understand the 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, who asked that her last name not be used.
Before getting sober 3½ years ago, Lori said, her drinking progressed in stages.
She would binge drink as a young adult for “special occasions” but didn’t recognize it as a problem. Her drinking frequency picked up as life’s pressures built, she said. She’d always been a working mom, and her job was a big part of her social network. When she left her career to focus more on her family, she felt isolated and turned to drinking.
Lori said her drinking routine started out as something to look forward to at the end of a long day taking care of the kids and the house. But then it ramped up to a daily habit. She began to drink earlier in the day, she said, switching from solely drinking in the evening to then also 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.
She said she hit rock bottom around the time her kids’ school principal had to intervene when she showed up drunk at pickup time. Soon after, Lori checked herself into an in-patient treatment program after a friend’s death made her realize she couldn’t cope without alcohol.
Lori said she still feels resentful when she’s around others who are 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.”
Gabrielle Glaser, author of “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control,” said it’s possible 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 already 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, the Oak Park mom, 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 stop drinking after she had worked her way up to drinking every day. That’s when a longtime friend who had recently quit drinking questioned Kitley about her habits after noticing that she was hungover at an exercise class. Kitley confided to her friend that she wondered if she had a problem, but she didn’t think she fit the typical image of an alcoholic.
When her friend invited her to check out an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Kitley recalls saying, “I can’t go to a meeting; I have an open bottle of wine in the fridge.” At her friend’s urging, Kitley made it to the meeting and decided to quit.
Kitley said she doesn’t fault those who drink socially or those who joke about wine on social media, but said it’s 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.