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5 Signs You Might Be Drinking too Much, Mommy

Amy Ettinger
June 1, 2017

It's easy to understand how motherhood can lead to a desire for perfection and often loneliness, but is your urge to unwind part of a bigger problem?

You pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir at the end of a day of back-to-back meltdowns and play dates. You have another with dinner and top it off while clearing the dishes. Sound familiar? You may be just letting your hair down or your sudden appreciation of fine wine may be a way of handling the stress of motherhood.

With more Prosecco-based play dates and kid birthday parties with a parent-happy hour-focus, it is suddenly a lot more common — and acceptable — to mix kids and cocktails.

But if this is an everyday affair, or if you're fighting the urge to drink the entire bottle, you may be battling an addiction.

"I never felt so much pressure in my life until I became a mother," says Brenda Wilhelmson, author of "Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife," a memoir about of her struggles with addiction and her recovery. After the birth of her son, Wihelmson felt stressed and isolated. She rewarded herself with a glass of wine after dinner, but soon she was drinking heavily at the end of each day. She would pass out, wake up with a hangover and start the whole cycle again each night at 5 p.m.

"I drank for 8 years knowing that I had a problem," says Wilhelmson. "Over the 8 years my drinking became heavier and heavier." She would wake up in the morning with shards of glass all over her living room floor; bruised from injuries she couldn't remember receiving. She'd forget where she parked her car and who had put her kids to bed.

Wilhelmson finally got sober in 2002 (after years of trying) with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. But the stigma of being an alcoholic can keep some moms from getting help earlier, says Ann-Marie Loose, LSW, a clinical supervisor at Caron Treatment Centers based in Wernersville, PA.

"You try to have the perfect home, be the perfect mom and wife," says Loose. "You look completely under control to the outside world, but the disease of addiction is slowly destroying your life."

More than 2.5 million women in the country abuse alcohol, according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Moms focus on nurturing their children and often lose their sense of self, says Loose. Between running to soccer games and volunteering on the PTA, mothers forget to take time to go to yoga or chill out with friends. The end result is a stressed out mom who gets angry and overwhelmed and doesn't know how to manage her feelings. Experts estimate that 85 percent of alcoholics don't seek treatment.

Some people can drink a lot and not have it impact their lives. But, there's a blurry line between enjoying a few cocktails during the week and being an all-out alcoholic. Loose provides these signs that your drinking is out of control:

  • You start making mistakes. For example, missing the kids' soccer game or forgetting to make your children's lunch
  • You start drinking before a social activity
  • You begin avoiding situations where alcohol may be present because you know you have difficulty controlling how much you drink
  • Once you start drinking you have difficulty stopping
  • The time between drinking binges gets less and less

What Drives Moms to Recovery?

"It's usually a negative consequence. It may be the kids saying 'you're never here'," says Loose. Other family members may confront an alcoholic mother or the parent may get pulled over for a DUI.

Unfortunately, some moms wait until it's too late to get help.

Two years ago, Diane Schuler, a 36-year-old mother drove the wrong way on New York's Taconic Parkway, crashing and killing 8 people. Reports indicate she was drunk and high at the time of the accident.

In July 2011, HBO aired a documentary, "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane," which probed whether Schuler's obsessive perfectionism may have contributed to the crash. The number of women abusing alcohol and getting behind the wheel is rising. Between 1998 and 2007 the number of female DUIs increased 28 percent, according to National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. In 2009, about 1,400 youths were killed because of DUIs.

Getting Help for You or Someone Else

If you think you have may have a drinking problem, you can call a treatment center. Use this Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator to find a recovery specialist who can gauge whether your drinking is out of control. You can also try taking this online alcoholic assessment tool.

Treatment options include out-patient care or checking in to a facility for (at least) 30 days. Either way, you need to address the psychological and medical issues associated with drinking. Loose stresses that it's important to seek attention from professionals because weaning yourself off alcohol can be dangerous and even deadly.

Once you sober up, it's a hard road to recovery. Loose recommends attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and bringing the family into counseling.

"Your family can be a motivating factor to get sober," says Loose."But, it's important they don't become co-dependent and try to take responsibility for mom's drinking."

And if you're a spouse, friend, babysitter, or trusted nanny of someone with a problem...the best way to get help and guidance (for yourself) is to go to a local Al-Anon meeting.

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