Friday 13 March 2015

Why so many well educated, middle aged women drink too much

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


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  2. I love your blog. I am two nights in and find myself constantly searching the web for virtual support -- yours is the best I've found!

    I'm in the US, but have noticed that much of the information on the mom/female wine drinking problem is coming out of the UK. I don't doubt that it's the same or worse here, but your country's media seem to be leading the charge on unveiling it as a widespread problem.

    I mainly wanted to send my support and say I hope you keep it up. We're very similar: our kids are the same ages, we're well educated, our friends drink and don't consider it much of a problem, and we came to the decision to quit in much the same way. I'll be looking forward to following your progress!


    1. I Justine - you American Goddess. You made my day! Well done on giving up the booze. Keep at it, and please stay in touch - we can support each other ;-)

    2. Sorry, that should have read 'Hi Justine', not 'I Justine'. x

  3. Dear SoberMummy,
    I am a retired teacher in the US. I know many professional women who drink wine as a way to cope with life. It starts out as Happy Hour, and comes the only way to deal with stress.
    I hope you have a good day!

    1. Hi Wendy! You are so right. I drank to 'blur all the edges'. It wasn't until recently that I realised I was blurring the good bits as well as the bad bits! How are you doing after 6 months? Is it easier now? I'd love your view on todays post about friends - it's rather freaked me out. x

  4. Dear Sober Mummy,
    I am from Quebec Province, Canada. What a relief to have found your blog and realize I am not the only young mom with a heavy drinking habit. I wuit 2 days ago and plan on writing about it to help through what will probably be a very long journey. Thanks for being out there! Love reading your stuff!

  5. Replies
    1. Welcome Anna! Well done and good luck! Please let me know how you get on! SM x

  6. I'm reading back in your blog. I definitely missed lots of it. I wish blogger and Wordpress were more friendly....
    I am that drinker too. Well educated, high earner, expensive wine. Drunk.
    I'm an engineer- engineers drink hard at university. And it's mostly men, so I drank to fit in...and because I always liked to drink!

    Then kids, schedules, pressure and depression eventually pushed me over the edge.
    I tried being a stay at home mom for a year, but went back to work because there was too much time and my drinking took off that year. It scared me.

    I have many friends who are the same. Social drinkers, but then going home and sitting on the couch with their wine, wishing life had turned out differently.

    It is so sad. Now that I know that listlessness was actually coming from the booze it is amazing how brilliant life seems.


  7. I think I got there the same way as you - educated, high achieving, trying to fit in with the 'lads', and stressed out! I've wondered whether for me, my drinking was an excuse so that I wouldn't have to feel I had to do everything - if I had a drink, I could stop studying or working for a bit.

    Perhaps the 'having it all' culture means we put too much pressure on ourselves, unrealistic targets and expectations, and then we turn to the booze to help us escape.

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  9. Yep, me too. I really think it starts at university. We have too much time on our hands and there is an unhealthy drinking culture - not that anyone had to force it on me!
    I joined the Danish 'home guard', a voluntary military force, some years back, and most of my colleagues there are skilled workers. I found to my chok that they do NOT drink regularly. They wouldn't dream of drinking on a work night, and many seem to go weeks or months without a drink if there are no special occations.
    I read this post today because I've decided to follow along with you - this was your day 11, I believe. Don't feel obliged to answer my comments, I just leave them in case some other new reader comes along at a later date.

  10. Thank you SoberMummy,
    I found your blog last night.
    You have described my life.
    For months/years I've been trawling through the net looking (subconsciously) for someone to tell me that I have a problem with alcohol. Like you, I did all the quizzes and visited the AA sites and , being a health professional, all the medical research on alcohol dependency. Nothing resonated and I came up trumps in the quizzes! Besides all my patients with alcohol problems were losing their jobs for being drunk at work or coming in with injuries from the latest drunken idiot they brought home from the pub. Not me. I have a good job, great husband, lovely kid and fun friends and only drink quality wine. Therefore the poor sleep/anxiety/crabbiness/forgetfulness/anger must be hormones/age/stress/undiagnosed depression, anything but alcohol.
    Until now.
    Now it is the evening of Day 1 (I'm in Australia), my son is in bed, my husband is away and I am sober- erkkk I'm reacting to that word-and I am planning a good night's sleep after I read the rest of the blog.
    Haven't ever posted anything before so excuse me if it fritzes up somehow.

    1. Hi Bubbles! Welcome! And we'll done you! We've all been there, and believe me, it's better to hop off the downward escalator now before it gets to the stage where it does start seriously buggering up your life! Have you read Jason vale's 'kick the drink' yet? If not, please do. It'll really help you. Please stay in touch, and GOOD LUCK! Xxx

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  12. I don't fit your brief of the Uni-educated, high-earner - or even the yummy mummy with wee ones. I'm 59, left school at 15 with no qualies at all. Whilst I've never been out of work, I have had 'normal' admin/PA jobs.

    In the late 80's I qualified as a weight-lifting, power-lifting instructor and opened my own gym ... drink was what other people did, I certainly didn't.

    Then mid 90's I divorced co-gym owner hubby and married an RAF Policeman - what a culture shock that was at aged 37! I moved from a fit life-style to a high-end social life-style.

    15 years ago I took my many years worth of skills and became self-employed working from a home-based office. Ideal for running alongside a constantly-moving RAF lifestyle.

    Working from home removed the 'I've got to drive in the morning' so the self-imposed break on drinking was released.

  13. I have just discovered your blog this evening and I am almost in tears at having found what I seem to have needed through all my short attempts, my medium attempts (6 months) and my desired long term attempts.
    I was just putting my daughter to bed and wandered how it all got to this and there you have so eloquently described how. I need to know how on pretty much everything in my life (there's those voices that need shutting up!) so perhaps with this I can start on my journey again. Thanks so much for taking the time with this blog. Just the other 9 months to get through now!! Imagine what else I might find xx

    1. So glad you found me, Mrs J! Keep reading, and stay in touch. You can do it, but it helps to have friends along the way who understand :-) Be happy - you're about to change your life! Big hugs xxx