Moms and Drinking: Secret After-Hour Addictions of Working Mothers

Filed under: Work Life, In The News, Alcohol & Drugs

mom drinking picture

Moms are good at hiding their drinking. Credit: Getty Images

Is it "wine-o'clock" yet?" is a cry heard among many moms after a rough day with the kids, the boss and, in many cases, both.

But a new study says a startling number of working mothers are shifting from imbibing in an occasional glass of cabernet to downing drinks and popping borrowed Xanax to take the pressures off work and family life -- and they are hiding these addictions.

This drinking in the dark phenomenon is on the rise, according to a series of reports from Working Mother magazine, which found that 5.3 million women in the United States drink in a way that threatens their safety and that the number of women ages 30 to 40 who abuse alcohol has doubled over the past decade. What's more, one in four children has an addictive parent, according to the research.

"What was most startling is that these are women who appear to be in total control, they hold good jobs, their kids are doing well in school and they're not hanging out in bars at 2 a.m.," Suzann Riss, Working Mother's editor-in-chief tells ParentDish. "But they are dying inside and are in serious trouble. Their kids depend on them and addictions are progressive."

The survey also showed that 40 percent of the respondents drink to cope with stress and 57 percent of working moms reported they have misused prescription drugs. And both of these figures look set to rise, Riss says.

"Our biggest shock was that these women are successful at hiding their addictions," she tells ParentDish. "One woman we profiled hid hers for 20 years. But they have these secret lives where they are addicts. It's a subject no one talks about and most of them thought they were all alone."
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The problem is more widespread than we think, Riss says. The magazine's series, "Everybody Knows Somebody," says fueling this rising health threat is the recession and the fact that more moms are the family breadwinners now than ever before.

"Another ripple effect of the bad economy is that working moms and wives have unprecedented stress on them," Riss, mom to 5-year-old Jack, says. "They don't know how to handle that stress. We're not saying that a glass of wine a night means you're in trouble, but we are talking about women who are dependent on alcohol or drugs and cannot make it through the day without them."

The impetus for the Working Mother series was the Diane Schuler story, Riss tells ParentDish. Schuler was the 36-year-old Long Island mother who, in July of 2009, drove down the highway the wrong way after 10 drinks and smoking marijuana. The accident took her life and the lives of her 2-year-old daughter and three nieces who were riding in her van, as well as three men who were in the SUV she hit. Her 5-year-old son was the sole survivor.

"When that story broke, we started to hear more and more rumblings about this as a real problem for working moms," Riss says. "We wanted to look more into these secret addictions and the secret lives of women who work right next to most of us in the workplace."

At the same time, a growing number of working moms who collectively experience "one of those days," have found a way to vent with a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Facebook group called "OMG I so need a glass of wine or I'm gonna sell my kids."

With 110,000 members strong, working mom of two and founder Christine Trice of Sacramento, Calif., says the group was born out of "one of those mommy moments," and is meant to be a place where stressed-out moms can feel they are not alone and find solace in the fact "that we can laugh at ourselves and joke that we're having a bad day and need a glass of wine," Trice tells ParentDish.

"It's kind of a sisterhood of moms who can laugh at themselves and admit for a moment that it isn't easy to be a mom or a working mom," says Trice, who runs two businesses, Brown Bag Botanicals and The Belly Beautiful.

Trice tells ParentDish the group is "not meant to promote drinking, but to be the safe place where moms can admit it is stressful."

"My father was an alcoholic and I know all about the severed relationships and damage that can be done in a family from drinking," she says. "But I also know what happens when you stuff down that stress and feel like you are all alone and are a bad mom because you had a challenging day. That's why we're here to help moms know it's OK to say 'I'm having a horrible day.' "

So, what are the warning signs for when a glass of wine to take the edge off stress has turned into a full-on addiction? Women who drink eight or more drinks a week or four or more drinks a night are at a risk for addiction, Riss says. Working Mother has created a quiz to help working moms assess their drinking habits, or give clues to suspicions about co-workers and friend's you are concerned about.

"The bottom line, though, is that if you are worried that you have a problem, you probably do," Riss says.

The problem is compounded because women are more likely to hide addictions than men, Heidi Jacobsen, a licensed mental health counselor who works with prescription drug-addicted women at WestCare, an outpatient substance abuse treatment center in St. Petersburg, Fla., tells Working Mother.

"They're also less likely to seek treatment than men because they worry about the people who depend on them," she tells the magazine. "They can't lose their job, their home and their children."

The secrecy shrouding this growing health risk was one of the biggest challenges in creating the series of reports, Riss tells ParentDish.

"When we started doing this story, we could not get women to give their real names and we didn't want to do it that way," she says. "We are proud that we found courageous women to come out and start talking about this. Our hope is that women who are suffering silently will know they are not alone and that there is hope for recovery. They can get help and they can get better."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.