One of the reasons why I was able to fool myself for so long that my drinking wasn't an issue was because everyone I knew was doing it too! Amongst my band of top university educated, high achieving mummies, most of us were drinking more days of the week than not, and at least half a bottle of wine in a session - usually more. We all joked about 'wine o'clock', and you were as likely to be offered a large glass of vino when collecting from a play date than a cup of tea. School socials all revolved around wine bars, and playground drop off chat often included a comparison of hangovers.
A study in 2010 concluded that women with degrees are twice as likely to drink daily than those without. The report concludes "The more educated women are, the more likely they are to drink alcohol on most days and to report having problems due to their drinking patterns." And this habit is killing us. Between 1991 and 2006 the incidence of alcohol related mortality in women aged 35-54 doubled.
Here's a quote from a doctor interviewed by The Guardian in 2008 about his female cirrhosis patients: "These are the steady drinkers. Typically they have a half-bottle of wine with their meal every night, or at lunchtime, and another drink at dinner. They are never drunk but they drink in a sustained manner. They don't realise they've got a problem because they think alcoholics are down-and-outs, or pub regulars. They have wine with meal and because of that they somehow think that takes away the harm, or they say "but I don't drink spirits." These misconceptions are very common. I suspect there are thousands and thousands of women who are drinking at risky levels, all over the country."
Too right, doc - and I was one of them. He describes me to a T. So why? Here's my theory:
Firstly, we were the first generation to grow up with parents who regularly drank wine with their meals - we saw it as the norm. We also hit puberty during the 1980s when 'ladette' culture was born. We didn't want to be sitting quietly in a corner sipping a Babycham. Oh no. We were at the bar necking them back with the lads. Anything they could do, we could do better!
We went to the top universities (where work hard, play hard was the culture, and 'play' revolved around drinking copiously), and - like the good feminists we were - got the top jobs that were traditionally the reserves of the male. These jobs were well paid, but stressful, at it was normal to retire to a wine bar straight from work to let off steam. In fact, in my creative industry, we had a bar IN THE OFFICE where most of the important networking took place. I also had a huge expense budget which I was expected to use to wine and dine clients and my team at lunch and at dinner.
The 1980s and 1990s also saw the rise of the chi chi wine bar. Anyone from London will remember the inexorable rise of 'The Pitcher and Piano.' These wine bars, and many more like them, were deliberately designed to make us 'educated and sophisticated' women feel comfortable. And they served our favourite wines (Chardonnay in those days, right?) in 250ml glasses - that's one third of a bottle! They also, unlike the pubs of that era) served food, so we could stay there all evening. And we did. And we didn't feel like sad alkies with their strong cider. Oh no - we were cultured. We discussed different grapes, vintages and provenances.
Cut to a decade later, and we all started having kids. Now, we were raised to believe that we could, and indeed had to, have it all! Great careers and perfect families. And most, if not all, of us quickly realised that this was a swift route to insanity. Many of us were trying to manage top jobs and babies without a wife at home to keep the ship from sinking. Only copious drinking provided a release from the inevitable stress, and knowledge that - for the first time - we were failing at everything.
Others (and I've been in both camps) quit the rat race and became full time (or at least part time) Mums. Now, being able to stop work to bring up your gorgeous babies is, obviously, a great honour and a privilege, but anyone who's done this knows that it's not a walk in the park. Or rather, it is endless walks in the park - with wet wipes and breast pads and emergency rice cakes. For us wine often provided a release from the boredom and the tedium, plus the stress of toddler tantrums etc. After a day of wiping orifices we'd ask ourselves whether this was what we slaved over our Oxford degree for. Naturally the answer was at the bottom of a goblet of wine. Also, if you're at home all the time there are no colleagues, meetings, deadlines etc. to keep you away from the bottle....
So, that's how I think I got to where I am today. How about you?
Related post: Women and Alcohol - a Deadly Realtionship