Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good motherhood wine meme as much as the next mama. Have you seen the one that says, “I want my kids to be good at math, but not so good that they can count how many glasses of wine I’ve had.” Ha! And, after putting my toddler’s shoes back on for the 57th time in one day, I have certainly told my husband in no uncertain terms, “I need a drink!” At the same time, there’s a little nagging part of me that wonders how the “Mommy’s Sippy Cup” culture around alcohol may be masking what, for some, is a genuine drinking problem.
And that’s just the trouble: In our booze-soaked culture, how do you really know if your chardonnay nightcap after a long day of momming is becoming a problem?
Here are a five RED FLAGS from the perspective of a psychologist (and mom) who specializes in the assessment and treatment of substance use disorders:
1. Alcohol has become your “go-to” coping mechanism. There’s a lot of reasons we choose to drink, one of which is that alcohol can have a calming effect on our bodies and minds. I often tell my patients, alcohol really works when it comes to stress relief . . . temporarily. I would even recommend it if it weren’t for all its pesky side effects! And there are many pesky, and sometimes devastating, side effects. Where many people find themselves sliding down a slippery slope is when alcohol becomes a regular and primary way of coping with the stresses of the day, instead of an occasional way to unwind or have fun with friends. There are many other great ways of coping with stress which have few, if any, downsides: exercise, talking with a friend or spouse, listening to music, crafting, baking, gardening, journaling, etc. We want these to be our “go-to” coping strategies, with an occasional splash of merlot for fun or during a girls night.
2. You crave it. Now I’m not talking about the time-to-time craving you might have for say, a margarita (guilty!). I’m referring to the powerful feeling of want and anticipation that can begin to occupy more and more space in your mind. If you notice that throughout the day you have thoughts like, “I can’t wait until the kids go to bed so I can have some wine,” or you begin changing your routine in order to access a drink more quickly or readily (e.g. putting the kids to bed early because you want a drink, going out of your way to buy alcohol so that you won’t run out), it’s time to take a look at your alcohol use. This type of craving is one of the strongest predictors that a person may develop an alcohol problem.
3. You hide your drinking from loved ones. There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), “Secrets keep us sick.” I would argue that secrets can also make us sick . . . with guilt and shame. Many people who develop alcohol problems start out by using alcohol to help them cope with stress or difficult emotions and then feel ashamed that they are using alcohol to cope, which leads to more drinking, and on and on in a downward spiral. If you feel the urge to hide your drinking, it’s likely because you already sense on some level that it’s becoming a problem.
4. Alcohol has interfered with important relationships. This can take many forms in the life of a mom. You may have avoided an event with friends because you’d rather stay home with a glass of wine. You may have stayed in bed all morning nursing a hangover headache instead of playing dinosaurs with your kids. However it presents, when your relationship with alcohol has taken precedence (even in small and subtle ways like these) over your relationships with the people in your life, it’s time to take a closer look.
5. Your loved ones express concern. Often times, those close to us can spot a problem even before we can. So, if your spouse has mentioned, “Hey honey, maybe you should slow down with that glass.” Or your toddler starts calling your glass of Riesling “mommy’s juice,” these observations are valuable.
Soooo . . . now I’m concerned. What do I do?
If this list rings true for you, know that there’s help out there and that having concerns about your alcohol use doesn’t make you a bad mom! Unless, of course, you’re the kind of fun, Mila Kunis type bad mom that brings convenience store powdered donuts to Christina Applegate’s bake sale. Having the bravery to look at yourself objectively, identify possible areas for change, and seeking help makes you nothing less than an incredible mom.
We all have our challenges. For some, alcohol becomes one of those challenges. If you are worried about your alcohol use, talk to your loved ones. Talk to your doctor. Call your insurance company and see what type of coverage you have for counseling or substance abuse treatment. Get help. The earlier you intervene, the better. You can do this. You can do anything. You’re a mom!