Rates of drinking and alcohol addiction are on the rise among women.
The role “mommy juice” culture may play in that rise and the effect it’s having on children who grow up witnessing this shift has been viewed with increasing scrutiny in recent years.
However, risky drinking behavior isn’t an issue exclusively affecting moms.
In fact, research shows that men drink at higher rates than women, are more likely to engage in binge-drinking behavior, and struggle with alcohol addiction in higher numbers as well.
So, why has “mommy juice” culture been met with concerned scrutiny while the drinking behavior of dads has traditionally gotten a pass?
“It is true that, historically, problem drinking has been more heavily stigmatized among women than men,” Deidra Roach, medical project officer for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), recently told Healthline.
She explained this was, “in part because of its potential impacts on a woman’s ability to care for her children, who are often seen as innocent victims of their mothers’ drinking.”
This difference in attitudes toward drinking among men and women is apparent in the data gathered from research on the topic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately
“While the long-standing gender gap in drinking has narrowed significantly over recent decades,” Roach explained, “past month drinking and past month binge drinking are still more common among men.”
She also pointed out that the prevalence of past year alcohol use disorder (AUD) is higher among men than women, at a rate of 7.5 percent to 4.0 percent respectively, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
All of this potentially explains the knee-jerk reaction to giving dads a pass on their problem drinking behaviors, even while continuing to shine a brighter light on women’s drinking.
After all, it’s simply been the norm for longer. But according to experts, problem drinking by any parent has the potential for negative effects on the children witnessing those behaviors.
“Children who grow up in a home where parents model moderate drinking are more likely to become moderate drinkers as adults, while those who grow up in a home where parents model excessive alcohol use are more likely to become excessive drinkers,” Roach explained.
Beyond that, she also said we know that children who grow up with parents who abstain from alcohol use are more likely to abstain themselves.
John Mopper, LPC, adolescent therapist with Blueprint Mental Health in Somerville, New Jersey, agrees that modeling plays an important role in how children develop their own view of substances.
But he doesn’t think it’s as cut and dry as children automatically copying what they witness their parents doing.
“I believe the child’s future relationship with alcohol comes down to more of what Mom and Dad’s behavior is like during and after they’ve consumed a drink,” he explained.
To highlight this point, he said, “If Mom and Dad have a cocktail as they cook dinner, ask about each other’s day, and engage with their children in a healthy way about their day, then alcohol isn’t sitting center stage.”
In this way, they may be modeling a healthy relationship with alcohol. Their drinks are an aside to the meal and engagement going on, not the focal point.
Mopper added, “But if Mom and Dad come home, pour themselves drinks, complain about their day, argue with each other, and then get angry with their kids, my guess would be that overall, healthy coping mechanisms are not being modeled or taught in the home. And there lies your real risk for future alcohol abuse by children.”
It’s using alcohol as a coping mechanism that Mopper sees as being a big part of the problem for future mimicking of maladaptive behaviors.
“The key here has to be the dialogue parents have with their children about alcohol use,” Mopper explained.
He said that all those “Mommy’s wine time” and “Daddy needs a beer” comments present “drinking as a way to cope and are modeling unhealthy coping strategies.”
But he worries that parents who present drinking as a dangerous thing in general, may create an environment where their children feel like they can’t come to them if they get in trouble while experimenting in their teenage years.
“We shouldn’t present alcohol as totally OK or all bad,” he explained. “Drinking isn’t bad. Drinking too much is bad. Having a cocktail at the end of the day isn’t bad. Needing a cocktail is. We need to move away from either/or thinking and realize that in most cases, it’s usually a bit of both.”
A recent Gallup poll found that men over the age of 50 were the most likely demographic to have consumed an alcoholic beverage in the last 24 hours, while men age 18 to 49 were the most likely to drink heavily.
Because men are more likely than women to have alcohol addiction or problem drinking behaviors, and because society as a whole is also less likely to condemn them for that, Daddy’s drinking could actually be sending a more dangerous message to kids over time.
Particularly because men may be more likely than women to overlook what they consider to be functional drinking behaviors.
“Recognizing the signs of problem drinking or addiction in both men and women may be difficult,” Roach explained. “Generally, alcohol becomes problematic when it interferes with one’s daily life.”
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may have AUD, Roach provided the following questions to ask.
In the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down on or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while drinking or after that increased your chances of getting hurt, such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that weren’t there?
If any of these sound familiar, the NIAAA has an online resource called Rethinking Drinking that may help you explore your relationship with alcohol and determine whether or not you might have an AUD.
“We also recently developed another resource, called the NIAAA Treatment Navigator, which helps people determine which types of treatment might work best for them and where to find it,” Roach explained.
Whether it’s Mom or Dad exhibiting problem drinking behavior, one thing remains clear: The kids are watching.
Michele Levin, LPC, LCADC, Mopper’s partner and co-owner of Blueprint Mental Health, added that parents should ask themselves, “Am I modeling a healthy perspective, attitude, and behavior regarding alcohol that I would be OK with my kids developing and repeating?”
If the answer is no, it might be time to make a change.