Katie explores the fraught relationship between some mothers and alcohol, in a new episode of Next Question.
A quick Google search for “mom juice” brings up hundreds of different wine glasses, drink koozies, and T-shirts all emblazoned with the colloquialism. There’s even a wine brand officially called Mom Juice.
What is “mom juice”? Well, if you walked into a bar and ordered a glass of it, chances are you’d get a hefty pour of wine. But more significantly, you’d be signaling to the bartender that you’re feeling stressed out from taking care of your kids. What began as a lighthearted social media trend (think: memes with sayings like, “When you whine, I wine”) has morphed into a more serious issue in recent years.
Emily Paulson, a sobriety coach who founded the Sober Mom Squad, a community that helps moms explore the possibilities of an alcohol-free lifestyle, knows firsthand how worrisome “mom juice” culture can be.
At first, Paulson’s drinking didn’t feel out of the ordinary. She dabbled with alcohol in high school, which was “against the rules but not out of the ordinary,” Paulson says. In college, parties were all about binge-drinking — “it was kind of normalized,” she says. It all sounds pretty run-of-the-mill for most adolescents, but once she became a mother of five, Paulson realized that she relied on alcohol in an unhealthy way.
“When I became a mom, I really started to use it as a way to cope,” Paulson tells Katie on the latest episode of her podcast, which focuses on women’s relationship to alcohol. “I was looking around me and other moms drank, too. It was kind of a joke, like, ‘That’s what moms need to do’,” says Paulson. But deep down, Paulson knew her drinking was becoming a problem.
“Anytime I’d get in a really big fight with my husband, or send a text message I didn’t want to send, or feel ashamed about something, alcohol was always the common denominator,” says Paulson. “Being pregnant so many times back to back really kept it at bay. But when my last child was born, all bets were off and my drinking really escalated.”
Paulson says she hit many “rock bottoms” on her journey to sobriety, including multiple hospitalizations. It wasn’t until she had to put a court-mandated breathalyzer in her car after getting arrested for a D.U.I. that she realized just how much she’d been drinking. “There were times when I’d drink and then not be able to start the car in the morning to take my kids to school because there was still alcohol in my system,” she says.
Paulson’s oldest kids were 10 and 11 at the time. “They asked questions like, ‘If you’ve gotten in trouble for it, why are you still drinking?'” says Paulson. “I was still trying to fit that square peg into that round hole, because I thought it’d be easier to be a person who drinks.” On New Year’s Day in 2017, Paulson woke up after “blacking out an entire weekend” of her life, and she knew she had to make a change.
The power of support systems, especially for moms
“I was losing everything. I was eliminating myself from my life. That was finally the point when I called the one person who I knew at the time was in AA,” says Paulson. “I said, ‘Tell me what to do. If I drink again, this is going to kill me.'” Alcoholics Anonymous meetings helped Paulson realize how tight of a grip alcohol had on her life. “Even all of those red flags were not enough to make me stop,” she says.
Of course, seeking professional help is nothing to be ashamed about. “No one ever starts out intending to have an alcohol or drug problem,” Louise Stanger, Ed.D., LCSW, and author of Addiction in the Family: Helping Families Navigate Challenges, Emotions, and Recovery, tells Katie. “People try to cut back, but once you’re physiologically and psychologically dependent, you’ll tell yourself stories, like ‘I’m not going to drink.’ You’ll hide that liquor bottle somewhere, but then suddenly the craving is so great.” Sometimes, an expert support system is the only way out of a dark place.
“Looking back, I wish there was a place for people who were questioning, who couldn’t check all those boxes yet, and who hadn’t had all those rock-bottom consequences. Because eventually, I was knocking on the door of AA and I fit right in because I’d had the DUI, I’d been in the hospital, I had marriage problems,” says Paulson. “I can look back and see that I had nowhere to go for a really long time.”
That’s why Paulson started her membership-based community Sober Mom Squad during the pandemic; it provides a space to hold conversations and share resources with like-minded women who want to (or are merely curious about) living alcohol-free. “The only requirements are that you’re a mom and you’re questioning your use of alcohol — or you’re just a mom who doesn’t want to be in the sea of women telling you to go pour your quarantini,” Paulson notes.
For members, Sober Mom Squad offers in-person gatherings, a resource library filled with books, podcasts, mocktail recipes, and private community forums where you can share and ask questions. While membership starts at $45 per month, Sober Mom Squad also offers free weekly virtual meet-ups designed for any woman, or mom, no matter what their current relationship with alcohol is.
“The world is telling moms, ‘You deserve it. You work so hard. You’re so stressed out. Get together and connect and have a glass of wine.’ It’s seen almost like a sisterhood,” says Paulson. “But we don’t talk about the trouble that comes along with it: That drinking rates are increasing, that it’s a carcinogen, that it’s addictive.” Not to mention that it’s common for others to judge you if you don’t drink. “If you don’t smoke or snort cocaine or do any other drug, nobody bats an eye,” she explains. “Like, Of course you don’t do that, it’s addictive — good for you! But if you say you don’t drink, people are shocked.”
How “mom juice” became a meme
Between managing their own workload, getting kids to pay attention in Zoom school, and overseeing the household, moms and caregivers experienced skyrocketing stress levels during the pandemic. Nearly half of moms who had children in remote school reported that their mental health declined, and 30 percent say they turned to alcohol to cope during this turbulent time, according to a report from the American Psychological Association.
“In the beginning, particularly during lockdown, a lot of social media and regular media were putting this idea out there that the way to cope with this is alcohol,” says Dawn Sugarman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and researcher at McLean Hospital. “There were quarantinis and Zoom happy hours. If you were in any social media mom groups, you saw millions of memes related to the way to deal with your remote school troubles was to have a drink. It was put out there as the way to deal with all the stress.”
That pressure wasn’t just on social media. “The marketing of alcohol toward women has exponentially increased,” says Dr. Sugarman. “Even before the pandemic, there were wines called Mommy’s Time Out, Little Black Dress, and Skinny Girl Cocktails. It’s become a big business, similar to what happened in the cigarette industry with Virginia Slims. When they tapped into that market, you saw an increase in women smoking. The same thing is happening with alcohol.”
Sales of ready-to-drink canned alcohol, like hard seltzers, jumped 63 percent in 2020, and Paulson thinks women may have had something to do with that increase. “If you’re at the pharmacy getting your bleach and hand sanitizer and you’re near the checkout line, that little can looks like no big deal,” says Paulson. “Meanwhile, it’s two-and-a-half servings of alcohol, and it’s just as easy to throw down as sparkling water. The alcohol industry sees a need, like, ‘Oh, women are drinking more, let’s just line the stores with these cans.’ It becomes so normalized.”
The way forward
But abstaining from drinking doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. “I don’t think everyone needs to be sober. It comes down to how you’re using it,” says Paulson. “If you’re using it to cope with parenting and showing your kids you need alcohol to survive them, that’s a whole different thing than wanting to have a glass of red wine because it tastes good with your steak.”
But if you are questioning your own use of alcohol as a mom, joining a community like Sober Mom Squad is available to help you answer those questions. Although it’s not a recovery program, it’s a safe place to connect and hear stories from other moms who are sober, sober curious, in recovery, or who are also questioning their drinking habits. “It’s a community for moms who don’t want to be in that sea of ‘wine mom’ marketing,” says Paulson. “It’s really just a place to share what’s on your heart and what you’re going through.”
To hear more of Katie’s exploration of women and drinking, check out the full episode of Next Question.
And if you’re looking for a recovery program, find a local AA chapter near you here or call the free and confidential 24/7 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.
The information provided on this site isn’t intended as medical advice, and shouldn’t replace professional medical treatment. Consult your doctor with any serious health concerns.