Rosenblum: The sobering truth about women and wine

Rosenblum: The sobering truth about women and wine

A growing number of women — and even teen girls — are having trouble with wine, say experts in alcohol addiction.
“We are a highly feminized drinking culture, and it’s always a glass of wine,” said Brenda Iliff, executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Center in Naples, Fla.

The 30-second “Wine Work-Out” video features two young and enviably fit women performing twists, lunges and arm-stretches, perfectly in sync.

But the duo’s physical prowess isn’t the reason the Facebook post has been viewed more than 14 million times since May.

Its viral popularity is due to the “hand weight” they pass back and forth — a wine bottle — and their “cool-down,” which consists of push-ups, face-first, into goblets of wine they inhale through straws.

Funny? I sure thought so.

But several conversations since viewing it have opened my mind to a sobering reality: A growing number of women — and even teen girls — are having trouble with wine, say experts in alcohol addiction. And endless cultural cues to consume more of it certainly aren’t helping.

“We are a highly feminized drinking culture, and it’s always a glass of wine,” said Brenda Iliff, a Minnesota native and executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Center in Naples, Fla.

It’s hard to argue with her. Glasses of red are so prominent they’re practically guest stars on popular TV series from “Scandal” to “Modern Family” to “Cougar Town” to “The Good Wife.”

Gift shops sell “Wine-Thirty” clocks and kitchen towels that read, “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.” Wine clubs, book clubs and Facebook pages with names like “Moms Who Need Wine” celebrate the sophistication and fun that wine is in the large majority of cases.

“We are not a prohibition society,” Iliff is quick to say. “Enjoy it if you can.”

But understand a few things:

• First, teenage girls in the United States are now drinking alcohol sooner than boys. The lead author of a Michigan State study said many factors could explain the shift, but advertising targeted at girls for “sweet, fruit-flavored drinks, such as wine coolers” was prominent on his list.

• Alcohol dependence is the most common dependence diagnosis among women attending treatment at Hazelden Betty Ford, affecting more than 90 percent of women seen. Men’s rates are lower, about 88 percent.

• The number of alcohol-addicted women is, for the first time, neck-and-neck with men in the age group 25 to 44.

• While women are physiologically less able to metabolize alcohol than men, many women have little idea of how much wine is too much. Only 5 ounces of wine (slightly more than ½ cup) equals a shot of distilled spirits or 12 ounces of beer. Women are advised to have fewer than three drinks a day, according to the National Institutes of Health.

• Health benefits of red wine are well-known. But too much consumption can lead to cirrhosis, heart and brain damage and cancer.

“What we know about alcoholism and women indicates that 10 percent of us are genetically predisposed to the disease,” said Andrea Bruner, women’s program coordinator at the Retreat in Wayzata. She, too, is keeping her eye on potential trends around wine drinking, which she calls “a cultural ritual that implies intelligence, culture, power, breeding and wealth — without the stigma of hard liquor.”

Interestingly, two women with considerable power and wealth have found themselves under attack on this very front. Karen Sodomick, spokeswoman for Phoenix House, a national, nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization, is one of many supporting a Facebook page, titled “Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb: Please Stop Drinking on the Today Show.”

The page, created by a mental health and addiction counselor, is directed at the popular morning TV hosts who sip wine throughout their morning show. The page asks the producers of the “Today” show “to stop promoting the idea that drinking in the morning is harmless to most people.”

“If this were a show targeted at teens, and Kathie Lee and Hoda were 21 instead of 50 and 61,” Sodomick noted, “the only thing flowing would be outrage.”

Rosemary O’Connor would agree. The 54-year-old San Francisco-based author of “A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery,” was 16 when she tasted wine for the first time at a party. “It was a lovely 99-cent bottle of Tickled Pink. Loved it, loved it. Never stopped.”

She later married and started a family and, from the outside, her life looked swell. “Much like the women in the Facebook exercise video, I was doing aerobics. I was involved in soccer, church.”

A glass led to drinking the entire bottle on many occasions, missing her kids’ school performances, “white-knuckling it until 5 o’clock,” driving after drinking and thinking nothing of it.

Her “bottom” was leaving her three kids with a 10-year-old babysitter and coming home “still drunk” the next morning. “It was,” she said, “a horrible scene.”

Now sober and a certified addiction coach, O’Connor said she’d like to do a follow-up to the Facebook Wine Workout video, “when the mom is passed out with her little kid in the background, or she gets into her car and drives drunk. It happens all the time. It seems so harmless because wine is so much a part of our culture.”

Thirty-seven-year-old Beth of St. Paul (who asked that only her first name be used), got her first DWI at 28, then another seven months later. Her drug of choice?

Boxed wine, although she also had an electric wine opener.

“I was drinking a bottle of wine a night,” Beth said. “Wine was always romanticized. OK, one glass of red a day will make you healthy. People see it and want to be prettier, better, and it’s just gotten so much worse.”

She’s sober now, with a college degree in education.

Beth exemplifies another truth about wine and other alcohol addictions. Recovery rates among women are historically higher than those of men.

“Call AA, see a therapist with addiction experience,” said O’Connor, the addiction coach. “You’re not alone. There’s so much shame associated with alcoholism and addiction. But there’s also so much help.”

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One comment

  1. Actually, you might feel better after drinking a little wine, but there are no health benefits from wine, red or otherwise. There is no known health benefit from any kind of beverage alcohol. If you are a fertile female and are sexually active without using contraception, you are “planning a pregnancy” And we do know that prenatal alcohol exposure can create a myriad of problems for the baby – mental and physical.

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