“Now that the holidays are over, I gotta slow down on the drinking,” I say to my girlfriends as we are huffing and puffing through our morning jog. I’m tired. I didn’t sleep well, probably because I stayed awake too late binge-watching Shameless and drinking that extra glass of wine.
“Me too,” one says.
“Me three,” the other one says.
This has become an all-too-common theme during our morning workouts, or at playdates, or even when going out for, yes, drinks. We say things like, “I’m going to drink consciously,” or “I just really want a drink when I’m cooking dinner,” or “Sometimes, I didn’t have a drink last night, and I slept so well.” We try to analyze why, after tucking our kids into bed, when officially off the clock for the day, we often find ourselves cozying up to that bottle of cabernet.
We have many excuses:
1. We’re stressed.
2. It’s our reward at the end of the day for all the crazy stuff we have to deal with.
3. It helps us relax.
4. It’s an accepted form of self-medication.
5. It’s habit.
6. It’s delicious.
7. It helps us fall asleep.
8. We’re grown-ups and we just want to because we can do whatever we want, dammit.
Well, it turns out that my friends and I aren’t the only women who are drinking more and probably justifying it every night with our many, many very valid excuses. A recent study done by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia, found that women are now drinking as much as men. The researchers looked at a compilation of studies done over 100 years measuring the drinking habits of 4 million people. This gave them a pretty good look at what’s going on in the livers of lots of people.
Turns out, our livers are positively cranking.
Men used to drink more than women, but like the overachievers that we are, modern women have caught up. Up until 1910, men drank two times as much and were three times more likely to have problems stemming from drinking or be harmed by drinking. But women born between 1991 and 2000 have equaled their male counterparts on all three of these — not the kind of women’s equality we are looking for.
The reasons women are drinking so much more are varied and most likely have to do with drinks being cheaper, increased marketing to women, and the creation of things like sangria and raspberry cosmopolitans. And also our current political climate. I feel that, personally, drinking is just accepted in my world. In fact, it’s socially encouraged. It’s fun, it’s harmless, it’s what everyone is doing.
Then why do I feel that guilt sometimes? Why do I tell my friends and myself on our morning runs, while we’re actively trying to do something healthy for ourselves, that I need to slow down on what I consume?
The problem is, for women, having more than seven drinks of alcohol each week can start to wreak havoc on our bodies. Women’s livers are smaller, and we just can’t metabolize alcohol as well. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, women who drink heavily are more likely to get cancer, heart disease, and liver cirrhosis. We just can’t slam back the tequila shots like the boys, unfortunately, without having an increased risk for health problems.
I know all of this. I know the statistics. I know that the reasons for women drinking more than the recommended amount are layered and varied and more complicated than any one article can get into. I also know that, when I drink too much, I don’t sleep well, I don’t function at my fullest the next day, and I feel that wiggly worm of doubt that I’m not actually doing what’s best for me or my family. That’s me.
So this year I’m taking a step back and taking a good, hard, close-up in fluorescent-lighting look at what I’m doing. Maybe ask myself some hard questions. For my family. For my kids. For my life.
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