Skip to main content

Why are more women drinking?

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
June 4, 2013 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study finds more American women are drinking more heavily than ever.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study finds more American women are drinking more heavily than ever.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Women talk to Peggy Drexler about needing to drink to unwind after day with kids or work
  • Drexler: More women drinking more heavily; college age women drinking more than men
  • Websites promote moms drinking wine, she says. Often women don't see signs of trouble
  • Drexler: Rise might be cause women staying single longer, working at traditional male jobs

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- All day long, Lucia looked forward to her favorite weekday ritual: putting the kids to bed, changing her clothes, and pouring herself a generous glass of Pinot Noir. "My friends and I joke that motherhood 'drives us to drink,' but sometimes it really does for me," she said.

"I feel like I need it to unwind," she said. Most nights she had three or four glasses, though never, she insisted, more than that. "And on nights that I don't have it," she said, "I really wish that I did."

For a long time, Lucia saw nothing wrong with her drinking. It didn't interfere with her parenting, or her relationships. She got done what she needed to get done. But lately, Lucia had been starting to wonder about her daily habit -- looking as forward to it as she did, and the anxiety that consumed her when she could not have it left her feeling unsettled.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

Part of her concern related to a history of alcoholism in her family. "My father was an alcoholic, and I always have in the back of my head this idea that I could become one, too; it's in my genes," she said.

Although men have historically been heavier drinkers than women, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the gender gap is shrinking, and fast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more American women are drinking more heavily than ever before: one in eight women binge drink -- defined as four drinks or more in one sitting -- about three times a month.

A forthcoming study in the October 2013 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that college-aged women are drinking more often than their male counterparts, confirming a January 2013 study of college students in Spain found female students were more likely to binge drink than male students.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that arrests for women driving while drunk are on the rise, by about 30% from 1998 to 2007. And according to the CDC, white, college-educated woman ages 18 to 24 with $75,000 or more annual household income were more likely to binge drink than women of other races, ages, and socioeconomic categories.

Part of this rise in alcohol consumption may have something to do with young people staying single longer; presumably women are out socializing more often than women their age were likely to do 20 years ago.

They're also working more, and drinking is often part of the job in male-dominated industries, like banking and tech. A study that appeared in the December 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, which tracked alcohol consumption in those born after World War II, suggested that the move toward gender equality may correlate with higher drinking rates. This suggests that more women have the opportunity, and the pressure, to socialize for work and "drink like men."

After all, although the three-martini lunch is a "Mad Men"-era relic, alcohol undoubtedly still plays a key role in many work functions. Entertaining clients is one way colleagues compete, while after-work socializing is an ever-important part of the professional culture. Many who don't participate in the interoffice networking often feel left out of the group, or even suffer professionally.

And yet women with careers aren't the only ones getting a bigger buzz than ever before. A University of Cincinnati study found that, surprisingly, married women actually drink slightly more than their single counterparts.

Sarah, a stay-at-home mother, began to drink more frequently after having her third child. She was often drinking alone, because her husband traveled a lot for work. "My social life is just so restricted; I'm home every night," she said. "I used to have an active social life. Now, most of my evenings are about feeding kids, cleaning kids, putting them to bed -- and then collapsing in front of the TV." Sometimes, she said, having a drink was a way to remember some of the excitement of her old life. Other times, it was just something to do.

Sarah certainly isn't unique and, in fact, there's been a movement toward a certain acceptance -- in some cases even glorification -- of mothers who drink. Popular Facebook groups like "Moms Who Need Wine" and "OMG I So Need a Glass of Wine or I'm Going to Sell My Kids" have tens of thousands of fans, inspiring one winemaker to create a label of wine especially for stressed-out moms. "Put your kids to bed," the label for MommyJuice Wines reads, "and have a glass of Mommy Juice."

Though meant, as a concept, to relieve mothers of the pressure to be perfect, the promotion, even half-seriously, of alcohol as an escape, something deserved as a reward for a long day of parenting, has helped make evident the biggest issue of all: That many women don't realize what problem drinking looks, or feels, like.

Like Lucia, many problem drinkers will never find themselves hitting "rock bottom" or facing any sort of trouble. Instead, they may experience far more prosaic effects, which prevent them, and their family and friends, from recognizing their over-consumption. A recent UK study of more than 22,000 people published in the European Journal of Public Health found that the average woman underreports her weekly drinking by 60%, and that up to 80% of women exceed the recommended daily intake.

Are they alcoholics? It's hard to say. But if you believe that alcoholism is defined by a preoccupation with drinking, a steady increase in the amount you need to drink in order to get the same effect, and an inability to give it up -- and most in the medical profession do -- then more and more women fit the profile quite nicely, though often come to the realization on their own.

"My husband only ever commented on the number of bottles in the recycling," said Lucia, who eventually quit drinking altogether. "He'd be like, 'You drank all that? But you weren't drunk at all!' Except, looking back, I sort of was."

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT