Casual Drinking vs. Alcoholism: Does Wine Culture Confuse the Two?

Judging from the sheer number of social media memes, it takes a few glasses of wine to parent a child. But how much is too much? When does unwinding with a glass in hand cross the line between casual drinking vs. alcoholism?

Wine Culture and Alcohol Use

Parenting is hard. And it can be nice to have a glass of wine or a beer after the kids go to bed. But the wine culture among parents may be leading to more drinking than necessary.

Our culture promotes the idea of alcohol as a reward for parenting. No doubt, you’ve earned a break, and one glass of wine is considered a moderate, safe level for women — that number is usually two for men. However, drinking more than that regularly can cause health problems and put you at risk of an alcohol use disorder. In fact, there’s a growing trend with women becoming more dependent on alcohol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in eight women binge drink about three times per month, with an average of six drinks per binge. Perhaps surprisingly, women ages 18 to 34 with household incomes over $75,000 are the most likely to binge drink.

Another study found that of 1,250 adults surveyed, those who still had kids at home were more likely to drink heavily. About 54 percent of respondents could be classified as having a possible dependence, and 41 percent of those respondents were women.

How to Spot a Problem

It can be hard to tell with yourself or your friends when there’s a difference between casual drinking vs. alcoholism. Many parents who develop alcohol-related problems don’t show it on the outside. They get the kids ready for school on time every day; they have no problems at work; their home lives haven’t changed. It’s easy to justify social drinking or treating yourself.

Start with your health. You already know that too much alcohol wreaks havoc on your liver, which can cause serious health problems over time. But alcohol also lowers the quality of your sleep. This could put you in a cycle of feeling tired and stressed, which then can feed your desire for more alcohol.

Women feel these effects sooner and stronger than men do. Women have a higher risk of developing alcohol-related problems sooner than men, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That’s why the recommended drinking levels are lower for women. The NIH provides some guidelines to signal when you might be at risk:

  • Women: Having more than three drinks on a single day and more than seven drinks in a week.
  • Men: Having more than four drinks in a single day and more than 14 per week.

How to Get Help

If you’re worried that wine or drinks are becoming central to your activities at home or with friends, consider changing up your routine. You may be able to lower your risk simply by finding some alternatives. Rather than wine at the next book club, set up a coffee bar. Try going dry for a month and see how your sleep, energy and mood change. Challenge your friends and spouse to join you.

Feeling that you need alcohol to make it through another day can also be a sign that something needs to change at home or that you may have an underlying mood disorder. Take a look at your demands and see if you need to remove some things from your plate.

If you’re worried you may have a problem, make an appointment with your primary care doctor, who can talk through your struggles and provide recommendations for lifestyle changes and counselors who can help you. Paying attention to why you’re drinking is key to ensuring that an evening glass of wine holds more benefits to your health than harms.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

MORE IN Live Well