“How much alcohol do you drink?”
“Doc, I’m just here for my annual gyno exam. Why do you care how much I drink?”
I care about alcohol use for the same reason that I care if you smoke. Everyone knows that smoking is addictive and dangerous to your health yet alcohol consumption has become so accessible and acceptable in our “wine and women” culture that we often overlook the real risks of alcohol consumption. Most women don’t question why I’m asking and they answer honestly and spontaneously without justifications.
I do worry about the justification group. “I just drink on weekends.” “I just have a few glasses of wine.” “I just had a six pack.” “I don’t drink EVERY day.” “I don’t drink any more than my friends.” If you answer a question about drug and/or alcohol use with a justification, then you may have a problem. Maybe you just have a 5 oz glass of wine with dinner and I don’t have to worry about you but the answer warrants a follow up question.
“Does anyone, including you, think you drink too much?”
Ask yourself that question right now. Did you like the answer?
“Wine and Women”, a culture of acceptance and accessibility.
The “Wine and Women” culture has become synonymous with getting buzzed and unwinding with the girls, dishing up the dirt over cocktails with the ladies, and whining over wine. It’s as if alcohol, wine in particular, JUST has to be included in every female social interaction. Can’t we communicate or have fun without alcohol?
Alcohol is a highly addictive drug and we need to recognize the dangers of accepting this culture of excess for all women.
Alcohol is widely accessible and it flows freely at most social events. I worry about all women who drink too much but I’m especially concerned about women in their middle years. Aging is taking a toll on our health and alcohol will accelerate that decline in wellness. The alcohol excesses of the college years have followed some boomers into the middle years but no one seems to be recognizing or discussing that real and present danger. There are many well placed warnings about the dangers of drinking directed at pregnant women, who should NEVER drink in pregnancy, and young adult women, who exhibit risky behavior. But what about mature women? Let’s be honest and open the discussion about the second half of our lives. Please take the time to comment. Are we as a society in denial?
A large percentage of women can handle the culture and don’t drink in a hazardous manner. Most women know when they drink too much but our culture is so accepting of drinking that it allows women in trouble to ignore the warning signs of alcoholism, to disregard the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption on their bodies (weight gain, diabetes, liver failure, cancers), on their brains (early dementia, depression, insomnia, shame and remorse) and on their sexual health (STDs, unintended pregnancy, broken hearts). The acceptance of hazardous drinking in our culture allows women to merrily lie to themselves that drinking excessively is normal.
Everyone is doing it.
Did you hear that justification? If you ever question your drinking then you probably have a problem. Every woman isn’t lying awake at night wondering if she drinks too much. Truly social drinkers don’t wake up with hangovers and regrets on a frequent basis. Normal drinkers don’t forget where or with whom they slept when drinking. Normal drinkers don’t drink and drive. Everyone doesn’t drink until they pass out. Blacking out and forgetting whole evenings and/or conversations while drinking is a very dangerous warning sign of addiction and should never be considered normal. If you are questioning your alcohol use, then see this website for more information. drinkaware.co.uk
Get the facts. The consumption of greater than 2 standard drinks daily, is considered excessive alcohol use in women.
A standard drink is not a tumbler sized glass of wine or an 8 oz martini. A standard drink is 1.5 oz of liquor or a small shot glass, 5 oz or 2/3 cup of wine, or a 12 oz bottle of beer. I don’t think women get confused about a standard beer but we do seem to be blinded to the actual size of a standard glass of wine, myself included.
I inherited a set of 1950’s glassware and the wine glasses are ridiculously small, miniature in fact by today’s warped standards, and they hold about 5 oz. When I drink out of them I drink less. I especially like them when I’m dieting because wine is not conducive to weight loss, period. Did you know that a bottle of wine has almost 700 calories? That’s half a days calories and so not worth it. I prefer to eat, thank you very much. One and done!
Do you drink too much?
If you are concerned about your drinking then stop drinking long enough to explore your options. Don’t ask your drinking friends if you drink too much because you might just be drowning together. Expect a push back when you say, “I’m not drinking.” It’s very strange to me that when someone announces that they quit smoking everyone applauds and offers support but when a drinker tries to quit the reaction is exactly the opposite. Try it. I tried a little experiment with my women friends this summer. I didn’t want to drink because frankly I feel bad when I drink so I announced that I wasn’t drinking. The responses ranged from, “Why?” to “Are you criticizing my drinking?” (And by the way, Sistas, I wasn’t criticizing your drinking.) Not one of these women who are genuine friends said, “Good for you, how can I help?” Drinking is so entrenched in our culture that we apparently can’t talk about it and it’s considered abnormal not to drink. If you try this challenge then tell us what you experience. We can learn from each other. If your friend announces that she’s not drinking then be the girl who says, “Great, how can I help?”
If you experience severe symptoms of withdrawal when you quit then seek medical support. Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. There are many online resources for help with alcohol related problems. Drinkaware.co.uk for definitions and advice and soberjournalist.wordpress.com for a fascinating, realistic journal of a woman who recognizes her alcoholism and documents her trials of getting sober.
You don’t have to reach “rock bottom”.
There is a huge group between normal drinkers and alcoholics who would benefit from intervention. The problem as I see it is that the term alcoholic conjures up an image of a homeless, DUI convicted, relationship devoid, “rock bottom” character drinking on street corners. When we use labels we can deny alcoholism in ourselves and others because the drinker doesn’t fit our label. It becomes a barrier to patients with a real need for help and allows them to be overlooked by their physicians and friends. Women alcoholics could certainly fit the “rock bottom” description but in general do not and perhaps it’s a better option to reach out for help before you reach rock bottom.
All I ask is that you be honest with yourself.
What do you really think about your drinking? Check out this Kindle book. Seven Days Sober: A Guide to Discovering What You Really Think About Your Drinking” It’s a quick read that helps you step back from the “Wine and Women” culture long enough to think about your own drinking. The author is an alcoholic who was drowning in the Napa Valley wine industry and her words speak to this “Wine and Women” culture.
There is a whole blogosphere for sobriety support. There are ads in every newspaper in the world for AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, meetings. You might see a meeting announcement listed as Friends of Bill W meeting. You can Google “AA” and “getting sober” and find hundreds of sites to check out. You don’t have to go to AA but look for support somewhere if you think you should get sober. There are many types of alcoholics (almost alcoholics/over users/abusers/worried drinkers) and many avenues of support.
In their book Almost Alcoholic, Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem? (The Almost Effect)“(available at Amazon.com) Robert Doyle and Joseph Nowinski identify five signs that someone may be an “almost alcoholic”:
You continue to drink despite at least some negative consequences.
You look forward to drinking.
You drink alone.
You sometimes drink in order to control emotional and/or physical symptoms.
You and your loved ones are suffering as a result of your drinking.
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5 Comments Add yours
Most women I know drink a lot every single day. NYC is a tough place to live and there is a definite culture of drinking here both men and women. Great post.
I think the culture is pervasive across cities and towns across America. The UK has a very good public awareness program and yet still has a problem. Certainly men should evaluate their drinking as well. Thanks for commenting. I love when a foodie blogger comments on my narrative medicine rants. 🙂
Well written and thought provoking. I agree with the Women & Wine culture being part of the problem. If one doesn’t drink wine with the gals, it tends to raise eyebrows. I intend to begin providing sparking flavored waters and juices at my gatherings. Admittedly, it’s awkward to be the only one at the party holding a bottle of water. Having the option of holding a pretty glass with something other than water in it has appeal to me. When I’m at a party and choosing not to drink, I pour my water (perhaps with a wedge of lemon or lime) into a wine glass.
You are also right that people tend to assume judgment when someone in the group decides she isn’t going to drink. Interesting response.
Thanks for writing this blog.
I agree. I drink lots of sparkling water at Summer BBQs. Thank you for commenting, Tracy