'Triggers of motherhood – why becoming a mum often leads to ‘grey area drinking’'.
Motherhood is rightly or wrongly something that culturally defines part of the female of experience. Whether you are a younger/older mum, a single mum, a working mum, a stay at home mum, a mum who breastfeeds or not, how you gave birth, a same-sex couple, a mixed-heritage couple (or a women who decides not to have kids) everyone has an opinion about what you and motherhood should look like.
People voicing these opinions combined with perfect spreads of lifestyle magazines and on our social media feed can create a lot of fear, stress and shame for us mums and primary caregivers. We start to worry that even when we are trying our best, we are not good enough.
Motherhood is also a time of transition from a time in our lives when we had very little responsibilities to having A LOT of responsibilities. This can impact our mental wellbeing and lead to heightened anxiety as we struggle with the demands of our new role. We want what is best for our kids, have never loved something or felt more protective over something than our kids. We are also encouraged to put our children’s needs before our own.
With these cultural messages, the breakdown of traditional female support systems and economic pressures meaning most of us need two incomes for a home is a lot to contend with. We may have had a traumatic birth, Post natal depress , feel isolated and possible maternal burnout. We spin so many plates and and whilst we are spinning we also need to look like a supermodel.
So how do we make sure our needs are met too and we have some semblance of balance AND support in our lives? Self-care and stress management, support and managing expectations is so important and yet so many of us feel guilty about doing anything which isn’t child-centred or feels like getting a break. This narrative needs to change because we need to look after ourselves in order to be able to look after our kids. We need to apply the oxygen mask to ourselves first.
What does this have to do with alcohol?
Alcohol is being directly marketed at mums . It wreaks havoc on our mental health and our nervous systems. At our most vulnerable time we are being sold the wrong solution to look after our needs. We see it on cards, brands, giftware and clothing with catchy slogans and funny memes. “Mummy wine time”, “Gin O’clock”, “You drink milk, I drink wine”, “it’s wine o’clock somewhere” and ever more increasingly we see representations of heavy drinking as a way of coping with motherhood everywhere. In reality, alcohol is really doing the exact opposite from being “Mummy’s little helper.” It’s ruining our sleep, it’s depleting our brains own capacity to regulate dopamine, GABA and serotonin and it is exasperating underlying issues with depression and anxiety. This might be your story, you are not alone, it certainly was ours.
A recent study by The Baby Show revealed an overwhelming 70% of the 1,000 new and expectant mums that were surveyed had experienced mental ill health during or after pregnancy.
Commonly experienced issues included anxiety (36%) and post-natal depression (12%). Nearly two-thirds (63%) of new mums asked said that their self-esteem had decreased since becoming a parent.
We are now thankfully talking about mental health more openly and when 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England according to Mind. This is a very important conversation for mothers. What is not being talked about enough or being diagnosed enough is post-natal depression, burnout or trauma.
Stressed out mums are increasingly relying up alcohol to dial down the stress at the end of the day. Mums are being told that using alcohol to self-medicate, bond with other mums and relax is normal. Over time this can become problematic and develop into dependance. Rather than the black and white notion of you are or aren’t and ‘alcoholic’ , it’s now viewed as a spectrum. You can not be medically dependant but can be relying on it emotionally - you may be in the grey area of AUD.
A grey area of drinker is someone who is drinking in a hazardous or harmful way and is walking the tightrope of dependency issues by moderating, counting units and setting rules around alcohol. The rules sometimes work and sometimes, and often increasingly don’t, which leads to low self-esteem, waking up at 4am with shame and a downward spiral emotional wellbeing.
Motherhood is a trigger for grey area drinking because motherhood is difficult, wonderful but difficult for many of us for all the aforementioned reasons. Also when we become mums we arrive with all our previous life experience, habits and unconscious or conscious opinions about ourselves AND about alcohol.
Problematic alcohol use doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen because we are flawed or weak, it happens because alcohol is addictive and life is impactful. If we have had trauma in our life, if we have underlying mental illness, if we have a lack of access to support, money, downtime, balance, sports, friends or many other factors, if we have a lot of stress this can all lead to drinking more than we want to because that’s what alcohol does. If we have low self-esteem or don’t have good self-care strategies, or feel lonely or isolated then that too can lead to developing a relationship with alcohol in a maladaptive way.
If this resonates with you then you are NOT alone, there are thousands of women getting support, finding sisterhood and taking back their lives from the grasps of the wine witch. There are women only secret communities like ours at www.lovesober.com which you can join and quit-lit books you can read like Love Yourself Sober you can read to start your own inquiry into your relationship with alcohol and if it’s time to make a change. We wrote this book for busy mums, like you and I who want to learn strategies for wellbeing and to live well and happy, for our kids and for us.
The World Health Organisation frames alcohol use disorder into:
1. Hazardous drinking: People who drink above the recommended limits/units, but are not yet experiencing harm.
2. Harmful use: People who drink above the recommended limits and experience harm, resulting in effects on their physical and mental health and social consequences. Patterns of use are also a factor: for example, binge drinking has a higher risk of immediate harm from injuries, violence, and loss of self-control.
3. Alcohol dependence: This is a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that may develop after repeated alcohol use. Typically, these include a strong desire to consume alcohol, impaired control over its use, persistent drinking despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drinking than to other activities and obligations, increased alcohol tolerance, and a physical withdrawal reaction when alcohol use is discontinued.