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July 3, 2024

June 26, 2024

A Deeper Look Into Mommy Wine Culture: Recognizing Needs, Nuance, and Healthy vs. Unhealthy Alcohol Use

E:
231
with
Amanda White
Author, Founder of Therapy for Women Center

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  • Mommy Wine Culture and Maternal Mental Health
  • Alcoholism, Alcohol Abuse, and Understanding the Concerns
  • Signs of a Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationship with Alcohol
  • Cannabis Use in Motherhood
  • The Social Aspect of Mommy Wine Culture
  • How to Start Reducing Alcohol Consumption if You Have Concerns

The conversation around “mommy wine culture” (the social encouragement of alcohol use in motherhood) is often heated and polarizing—and it’s easy to understand why. 

The discussion can become intertwined with mom shaming, different behavior standards based on gender norms, and concerns about putting even more pressure on moms who are already overworked and burnt out

But when we address mommy wine culture, it’s not about criticizing habits or shaming moms for enjoying an alcoholic beverage. It’s about taking a closer look at maternal mental health, the risk factors moms face, and how to support moms on a deeper level. 

The postpartum period is a vulnerable time for moms. We often cope with grief, identity shifts, sleep deprivation, and difficulty adjusting to motherhood. 

It’s also a high-risk period for maternal mental health concerns, with 10-20% of moms experiencing postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety. Depression and anxiety are both linked to increased substance and alcohol use. Recent research reveals that the number one cause of maternal mortality is mental health outcomes such as suicide or overdose. 

That’s why it’s important for new moms to understand the risk factors and signs of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol—not to shame them or to cause more guilt or judgment in motherhood, but to encourage them to take a deeper look at what unmet needs and mental health concerns are at play. 

Mommy wine culture is often viewed as a lighthearted joke—with moms turning to wine or a mimosa to cope with stressful parenting moments. And plenty of moms can enjoy an alcoholic beverage without falling into unhealthy patterns. But alcohol use isn’t always lighthearted—for some moms, there are mental health concerns that are being overlooked and coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy. 

This week on The Momwell Podcast, I’m joined by Amanda White, author of Not Drinking Tonight and founder of Therapy for Women Center. We discuss the drawbacks of mommy wine culture, the differences between healthy and unhealthy alcohol use, and the mental health concerns of motherhood. 

Mommy Wine Culture and Maternal Mental Health

One of the reasons why many people are sensitive to any criticism of mommy wine culture is that moms are often already carrying so much pressure, mental labor, and social expectations. The last thing they need is more to worry about or additional stigma to face. 

But Amanda pointed out that the discussion isn’t about blaming individual moms—it’s about questioning the overall cultural encouragement of alcohol use—especially when it comes to companies profiting off of it.  

One notable example is the Tropicana commercial that suggested moms deserve a mimosa as a reward for their hard work. Amanda pointed out that this message doesn’t address why moms are feeling overwhelmed or overworked or give them any tools to help with the challenges of motherhood—it simply encourages a short-term coping mechanism that might not be healthy for everyone. 

Moms are saddled with more pressure than ever, with little widespread support to help them cope. 

There is a bigger issue at play than individual alcohol use or whether or not moms are sharing memes about having a glass of wine—the systemic overlooking of maternal mental health. Moms are saddled with more pressure than ever, with little widespread support or resources to help them cope. 

This is where the real concern about mommy wine culture comes into play—without those resources or support, many moms do end up turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism, which can lead to long-term concerns. 

Alcoholism, Alcohol Abuse, and Understanding the Concerns

Amanda pointed out that even the term “alcoholism” can be isolating and in many instances unhelpful. She said that there is no universally agreed-upon definition of alcoholism. The word existed before we understood that there was a psychological component involved. 

And while the label can be empowering for some people, others find it defeating. Amanda  prefers to think about alcohol use in terms of mild, moderate, and severe rather than a black-and-white definition. Instead of thinking about it is as something that has to be “bad enough” to stop, she encourages people to think more in terms of, “Is this helping me enough to continue keeping it in my life?” 

Amanda pointed out that the idea that people are either alcoholics or not alcoholics can cause us to overlook unhealthy behavior or signs of needs. If we think “I’m not an alcoholic” and we don’t pay attention to our usage, we run the risk of overlooking substance abuse. 

She said that we all have the ability to become addicted to substances or to misuse them—especially in situations of trauma, difficulty, stress, or mental health concerns. She also pointed out that it isn’t about the amount of alcohol consumed or the number of drinks—it’s about the relationship with alcohol. 

Signs of a Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationship with Alcohol

Amanda said that if you are drinking to cope with your emotions, it’s a sign to take a closer look. Motherhood often comes with stress and high emotions. In these situations, alcohol can often become the primary coping skill and lead to needing more and more to deal with stress. She also said that daily drinking or habitual drinking can often be a concern, along with being unable to enjoy a social event without alcohol. 

To have a healthy relationship with alcohol, we the skills to navigate our mental health withiout it. 

Her philosophy is that in order to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, we need the skills to navigate our mental health, to socialize, and to be able to cope with motherhood without it. If we don’t have those skills, it becomes easy to reach for it from a deficit rather than making an empowered choice to have a drink or not have a drink. 

It can become particularly concerning when moms are dealing with postpartum depression. They might turn to alcohol as a way to numb or cope with the feelings. But the risk is that if we turn to coping mechanisms rather than seeking the mental health support we need, we aren’t actually working through the real issues at play. 

Signs of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol:

  • Daily or habitual drinking
  • Using alcohol as a way to cope with stress or feelings
  • Using alcohol to numb or mask hard emotions
  • Alcohol use is impacting relationships or people in your life have raised concern
  • Alcohol use is impacting work or the way you show up for your children

Signs of a healthy relationship with alcohol:

  • You are able to enjoy social events without alcohol
  • You can go through periods without it
  • You aren’t turning to it to cope with emotions

Cannabis Use in Motherhood

With the legalization of cannabis in many regions, including parts of Canada and the United States, its use among mothers has also become a widespread topic of discussion. Some argue that cannabis is a safer alternative to alcohol, given its fewer physical side effects and the perception of it being a more natural substance. 

Amanda pointed out that if you experience fewer side effects with cannabis and this can be a healthier outlet for you than alcohol use, there’s something to be said for it. 

But she also cautioned there are still concerns for addiction—even if that addiction is emotional and not physiological. She said that research shows that addiction happens when we have an experience that tells us, “this is what I was looking for” or “this is what I was missing,” which we might feel when using cannabis or prescription pain meds or any number of substances. 

She pointed out that postpartum is such a wild, unpredictable time—and if we compare it to how we felt before or how we thought we would feel during it, it can become easy to turn to a substance to give us a sense of calmness, happiness, or excitement. But this can become a slippery slope if we aren’t aware. 

Just like with alcohol use, it’s more about the relationship and your level of reliance. Plenty of moms can use alcohol or cannabis in a healthy way. It’s just important to be aware of concerns and potential addictive risks. 

Amanda also shared that sometimes people will turn to alcohol, cannabis ,or other substances to not eat as much. This can become a concern and mask unhealthy eating or potentially disordered eating. 

It’s not about the substances we use, it’s about what’s going that makes us feel the need to reach for them. 

She said that ultimately it’s not about the substances we use, it’s about what’s going on in our lives that make us feel that we need to reach for it, and whether we have the skills and support in place to deal with those situations. 

The Social Aspect of Mommy Wine Culture

Social dynamics play a significant role in the perpetuation of mommy wine culture. Alcohol use is often so ingrained in our culture, handed out at playdates, brunches, or social events. 

Many mothers feel pressure to conform to the drinking habits of their social circles, fearing that opting out might lead to isolation or judgment. Sometimes this keeps moms from reducing their alcohol use even if they want to or are concerned about their own use. 

It’s common to feel pressured to drink in social situations. This often happens unintentionally—hosts, friends, or family members want to make sure everyone is having a good time and might repeatedly offer alcohol. There might also be situations where friends or family members might feel as if we are judging them if we choose not to drink. 

We might even feel like drinking proves that we are still who we were before we had children.

This is particularly challenging in a society where drinking is often associated with being fun, cool, or laid-back. Amanda pointed out that we might even feel like drinking proves that we are still who we were before we had children, a way to cling to our identity if we feel that we are losing ourselves. 

It's important to recognize that while socializing is a vital aspect of well-being, it does not have to revolve around alcohol. Building relationships and support networks that are not centered on drinking can provide a healthier environment and reduce the risk of substance dependence.

We should feel empowered to make our own choices, regardless of our social circle. 

How to Start Reducing Alcohol Consumption if You Have Concerns

If you have been wanting to reduce your alcohol consumption or you have concerns about your relationship with alcohol, one of the first places to start is building emotional regulation skills. 

Amanda pointed out that the concept of turning to alcohol after a hard day is ingrained in us from a young age, often shown on TV and movies. And when we have that image in mind and we have to face tough emotions, it’s tempting to turn to alcohol. 

She said that many of us don’t know how to process our emotions or sit with them. And one of the hardest things as a parent is trying to manage our own emotions in the face of a dysregulated emotional child. If you are neurodivergent or struggling with anxiety or depression, it becomes even more difficult. 

Seeking treatment for underlying mental health concerns can help us work through those additional factors and create space to build emotional regulation skills. 

Amanda said that it can also be helpful to seek support from our partner or friends—although it’s important to not put the onus of responsibillity on them. Instead of asking them to not let us drink, we can ask if we can agree to not bring alcohol into the home, or seek alcohol-free activities. 

It can sometimes feel harder to plan alcohol-free or substance-free outings. Alcohol often feels easy and accessible. Amanda pointed out that it often feels like it gets harder before it gets easier, especially when it comes to emotional regulation. We’re building emotional regulation skills rather than pressing a button to numb—and this can take time to work through. 

Building tolerance for our big feelings and working through them is an investment in our future. 

But building tolerance for our big feelings and working through them is an investment in our future. It might not be a quick, easy solution, but it is something that pays off in the long run, and it’s something that we can then teach our children so that they can learn that emotions are not bad or something to run away from. 

If you are struggling with alcohol use, pressures in motherhood, or emotional regulation, working with a mom therapist can help! Book a FREE 15 minute consultation today. 

This post includes links to outside resources we endorse–if you make a purchase we might receive a commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Tags:

Alcohol use, Mommy wine culture, Substance abuse

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Amanda White
Author, Founder of Therapy for Women Center

Amanda E. White is a licensed therapist and the creator of the popular instagram account @therapyforwomen. She is the writer of the substack Fence Sitter. She is the author of the book “Not Drinking Tonight” and its corresponding workbook.  She is the founder of the group therapy practice, Therapy for Women Center, based in Philadelphia serving clients across the country. She has been featured in notable publications such as Forbes, Washington Post, Shape, Women’s Health Magazine, and more.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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