3rd April 2022. From The New York Times

The article is written by Ericka Andersen as a guest essay.

There have been a lot of jokes and memes about pandemic drinking by women, but the fact is that in the past two decades, women have often turned to alcohol more than they did in the past.

Yes, the pandemic has compounded the problem. A study in JAMA Network Open in 2020 found that the days in which women drank excessively (defined as four or more drinks in a few hours) increased by 41 percent during lockdown. Another report, from RTI International for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said that mothers with children under 5 increased their drinking by more than 300 percent during the pandemic.

But the pattern of increased alcohol abuse by women appears to have preceded the pandemic. In fact, I was one of them. I found myself drinking more than I did before becoming a mother of two children. Luckily, I was able to recognize the problem and recently celebrated one year of sobriety.

Women need an intervention. Our physical and mental health is suffering because of drinking. We have to address the reality of excessive alcohol consumption by women, and more women need to speak out about it — and seek help.

From 2001 to 2013, there was a 58 percent increase in women’s heavy drinking and an 84 percent increase in alcohol-use disorder. It has an effect on every part of life — from parenting to health care to the economy.

We often assume that men are more typically the ones with a drinking problem. And men do generally drink more — but the gender gap is narrowing. One study reported that from 2006 to 2014, alcohol-related visits to the emergency room increased by 70 percent for women and 58 percent for men. Another found that from 2009 to 2015, the prevalence of women’s cirrhosis related to alcohol rose 50 percent, while men’s increased 30 percent.

American alcohol consumption began to rise generally in the 1990s, with women posting some of the highest increases. It’s not entirely clear why that happened.

One reason is that alcohol producers saw a lucrative target. Since up to 85 percent of consumer purchases are made by women, women-focused marketing was a smart move. It was also the late 1990s when the television show “Sex and the City” appeared, making cosmopolitans with friends a symbol of fun and sophistication.

What’s more, a 2018 study found that women paid up to 13 percent more for the same products as men if they were rebranded as feminine. Products were created specifically for women’s consumption, such as Chick Beer and Johnnie Walker’s Jane Walker. As sales soared, so did new offerings: Skinnygirl Margarita, birthday-cake-flavored Smirnoff vodka, Mommy’s Time Out wine. The trend continued with the unmatched popularity of White Claw and Truly hard seltzers, low-calorie drinks with fruity flavors. From May 2020 to May 2021 alone, hard seltzer producers claimed $4.5 billion in sales.

Marketing teams have also realized that portraying alcohol as a reward or relaxation tool for tired mothers can be an effective strategy. The #WineMom trend was born, and with it came play-date happy hours, travel coffee mugs spiked with vodka and the normalization of alcohol to deal with all things parenting.

Last year, Tropicana introduced a marketing campaign called “Take a Mimoment,” which showcased hidden mini-fridges around the house where parents could sneak a mimosa made with Tropicana juice. Sobriety advocates quickly called the brand on it — after all, hiding drinks generally signals a drinking problem. Tropicana apologized, and celebrities including Molly Sims and Gabrielle Union took down their Instagram posts promoting the Tropicana mimosa.

But it seems that we are still struggling with drinking. In recent years, there’s been a flood of articles about “mommy wine culture” and alcohol abuse in women. The former ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas published a memoir about her addiction. Others have made careers of their sobriety, like the writer Holly Whitaker, whose book “Quit Like a Woman” soared in sales after the model Chrissy Teigen said that it persuaded her to quit drinking.

Millennials reportedly drink less than other age cohorts, but health statistics overall aren’t improving. From 1999 to 2017, alcohol-related deaths among women rose by 85 percent. That’s a mind-boggling number, and I, like many others, hope alcohol will one day follow the path of cigarettes — now a social ill slapped with bold warning labels.

When I began thinking about sobriety, I knew alcohol could be bad for the liver, but was disturbed to learn that it also attacks the immune systemand is connected with over 60 different diseases. With today’s obsession with “clean” eating and “nontoxic” foods, it’s startling that so many are fine with pouring ethanol — a literal toxic substance — into their bodies regularly. Recently, the American Cancer Society changed its recommended alcohol intake to zero because of its close association with cancer.

Once you know the truth about alcohol’s effect on the body, you can’t unknow it — especially if you have family members who have struggled with alcohol abuse. I thought of my grandfather, who died of liver disease, and my mother-in-law, whose life (and subsequently the lives of her children) was destroyed because of alcohol. I thought of nights I had put my children to bed while tipsy and how they noticed the change in my voice when I drank. I thought of arguments with my husband, insomnia, dry mouth, headaches and regret.

I typed “Do I have a drinking problem?” into a search engine and found that many other people were asking the same or a similar question. The actions I took after that led me to today and over a year of sobriety.

I was helped in part by the writer Laura McKowen’s company, the Luckiest Club, which offers several meetings a day via video, each often including hundreds of people trying to get and stay sober. For women specifically, several options exist (many charge fees), among them Sober SisSober Mom Squad and Women for SobrietyTempest is another one to consider. By searching hashtags like #SoberLiving and #SoberMovement, you’ll find supportive communities and recovery coaches available to help.

But the recovery community can’t do it alone. A public health issue this large needs corporate and governmental allies to help spread awareness and work to reduce the shame associated with addiction and sobriety.

I’m thankful I got the courage to face my alcohol dependence. I’m hopeful that many other women in America will end their state of denial. Their lives depend on it.

Link to the article in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/03/opinion/american-women-alcohol-abuse.html

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