A Lesson About Moderation: Do We Drink Too Much?

wineIn my last article I talked about my personal relationship with alcohol and asked the question: Do I drink too much? This week I want to talk about the broader issue: Do we ALL drink too much?

First let me say that by “ALL” I mean people like me — women in our 30s and 40s — Gen Xers who aren’t quite middle-aged, but no longer young. We’ll call ourselves “Life Experts.” Our frontal lobe is fully developed so we can appreciate the consequences of our actions. We’re smart enough to not drink and drive, go home with strangers or flash our boobs for beads, yet we still love a good buzz. We’re not alcoholics, but we definitely lie to our doctors when they ask us how many drinks we consume per week. We consider ourselves social drinkers who do A LOT of socializing. Sound familiar?

After my last article was published, I learned there’s no right answer to the question: Do I drink too much? The responses I received ran the gamut from, “Wow, you might have a drinking problem … and so might I!” to “Who cares? If we lived in Europe we wouldn’t give this issue a second thought.” I did, however, find one common thread: Those of us who think a lot about our drinking typically have a family history of substance abuse.

My father died at the age of 41 of cirrhosis of the liver. He was a drinker — the type of guy who went to his favorite bar every day after work — often having to be cajoled out by my mom. Every affair, whether it be a holiday, a family party, a vacation or simply a random Saturday afternoon pool party, was celebrated with lots of drinks.  Food was an afterthought. It might not surprise you to learn that my dad was Irish.

Watching alcohol slowly kill my father obviously made an impression on me. I’ve always monitored what I drink and take particular notice when I’m stressed or have a case of the blues. Do I turn to alcohol in times of stress? Can I live without it? Did I inherit the addiction gene? My answers: sometimes, fuck no, who knows?

I do know, however, that alcohol plays a major role in my life – and the lives of most people in my social circle, much more so than it ever played in my mom’s life  I don’t recall her ever hanging out with her girlfriends drinking to excess. Nor did my friends’ parents. No one’s mom had a nightly glass of wine. Of course the options were limited back then: Riunite and Franzia dominated the shelves and they weren’t very tantalizing. Nonetheless, I can barely recall seeing my mom drink at all. It didn’t seem culturally acceptable for older women/Life Experts to be big drinkers. Those who were either had a drinking problem or belonged to the key party set. So what happened?

Perhaps the prevalence of drinking among modern-day women can be blamed on two factors. First, we’re stressed more than ever. All that multi-tasking and the quest to have it all, be the perfect parent, answer every text message, read every tweet and post daily photos of our stellar lifestyle is exhausting. When we’re not shuttling our kids to their various activities, we’re stuck at home with them. They fight, they whine, they’re boring and nothing alleviates the doldrums of parenting like a nightly glass of wine. It’s a small treat, and just the thought of it often makes the day more bearable. While I’m trying to write this article, my boys are fighting about who stinks more and all I can hear is them both shouting “YOU! YOU! YOU!” This makes me want a glass of wine because I know, after a sip or two, I won’t care about their yelling. I might even get playful enough to take a whiff and end their fight. “Oh 9-year-old, of course you stink more.”

To clarify, I’m not denying that women historically haven’t turned to alcohol or drugs to get through the day. After all, Valium was nicknamed “Mommy’s little helper” in the ’50s and ’60s … and not because it assisted mom in her household duties. My grandmother, who never drank other than the occasional Grasshopper or Pink Lady, always had smelling salts and a small bottle of brandy in her purse to get her through a muscle spasm. Yeah, right. Today, however, the stress is different, and popping Valium is no longer a socially acceptable solution to the stress. A glass of wine on the other hand…

Second, from a cultural perspective, female drinking is the norm. It’s no longer just about the boys and their beer.  As I mentioned in my last article, modern female TV characters are often featured sipping enormous glasses of wine or cosmos. Like never before, marketing experts target us by creating girlie-flavored vodkas, pre-made calorie-conscious cocktails, and wine called “Mommy’s Time Out.”

Then there’s the infamous Mom’s Night Out. Just like my parents never had a “date night (they just went out),” my mom never had an official MNO. Today, however, they’re a critical component of our self-care. The options are usually dinner and drinks, or bowling and a beer, or paint and vino, or … screw everything else – let’s just have some cocktails! It’s all we really want anyway, right? Book club has become a thinly veiled disguise for wine and cheese club. Even yoga is starting to be paired with beer and wine. It’s our little joke — the thing that binds us together as women and friends.

So here we are, drinking more than our moms did and loving it. If we’re healthy, not driving and fully functional, why care? Perhaps we should have a more European attitude toward alcohol where having a glass of wine at lunch is the norm and getting drunk doesn’t make for an interesting story. For we Americans, however, having a drink at lunch feels scandalous, or at the very least, indulgent. And I still love telling that story about buying bagels on a Sunday morning still wearing my Saturday night shoes. But I digress …

I don’t know the solution, or if there is even a need for one. Personally, the level of self and societal examination I’ve conducted has led me to conclude that I’m happy with the status quo. I don’t drink daily, I generally don’t have more than a glass or two during the week, and I don’t drink and drive. Yes I lie to my doctor about the number of drinks I consume per week, but I’ve learned she assumes I’m lying and scales down accordingly. I don’t have a drinking problem and neither do you.

The takeaway? Don’t obsess, but pay attention. While genealogy doesn’t necessarily equal destiny, it’s a good idea to keep our vices in check. At the risk of sounding cliché, balance and moderation truly are the key. After all, life’s too short to say no to those things that bring us joy. And this summer I’m putting those little fuckers in camp so I won’t be self-medicating by the pool with weak drinks. Live and learn my friends, live and learn.

2 responses to “A Lesson About Moderation: Do We Drink Too Much?”

  1. This City Mom (who Ubers or cabs after a couple of glasses of wine) loves it and agrees!
    Well said amiga! 🙂

  2. Great article Kim! I like "dont obsess but pay attention"..wise words.

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