The “wine-mom” trope has become pervasive in modern society—the image of the mother who pours herself a glass of wine (or maybe two… or three) after she is finished with her childcare and domestic duties for the day. It is, seemingly, the main way she copes with motherhood and the stress of daily life. In the scientific literature, however, research on this topic has only just begun to emerge (Adams et al., 2022).
Wine-mom consistent drinking: What alcohol-related outcomes is it linked to?
To help better understand mothers’ drinking behaviours, we examined the link between wine-mom-consistent drinking (reporting drinking in the ways promoted by wine-mom culture) and alcohol outcomes—including problematic alcohol use and food and alcohol disturbance (FAD). FAD, sometimes referred to as “drunkorexia,” is a behaviour pattern marked by calorie restriction and/or compensation in relation to alcohol use. We were interested in the following: (1) whether wine-mom-consistent drinking related to the above alcohol outcomes and (2) whether wine-mom-consistent drinking interacted with risk factors (stress, body dissatisfaction) to further increase an individual’s likelihood of engagement in the above alcohol use behaviours. In other words, if someone drinks “like a wine-mom” and has elevated levels of stress or body dissatisfaction, are they also more likely to use alcohol in problematic ways?
Mothers’ problematic alcohol use and FAD: How were they measured in our study?
Problematic alcohol use in our study was measured using the total score of the widely-used Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (Saunders et al., 1993) and FAD was measured using the Compensatory Behaviors in Response to Alcohol Consumption Scale (Rahal et al., 2012)—the most commonly used questionnaire that captures “drunkorexia” or FAD. Importantly, FAD can be broken down into dimensions: alcohol effects (wanting to feel drunker/drunk more quickly), bulimia (extreme compensatory behaviours such as vomiting or using laxatives), dietary restraint and exercise (cutting down on meals and exercising), and restriction (meal skipping)—with the latter three dimensions focused on compensating for alcohol-related calories.
Body dissatisfaction and stress in relation to alcohol outcomes
Perhaps unsurprisingly, body dissatisfaction is associated with FAD (Shepherd et al., 2021). Additionally, stress has been linked to women’s alcohol use (Peltier et al., 2019). The stress levels experienced by mothers are likely exacerbated by the “double shifts” women disproportionately take on compared to men (working outside the home and then doing more than 50% of the household-related work when they return to the home; Caluzzi et al., 2022). We were interested in the degree to which body dissatisfaction and stress is related to problematic alcohol use and FAD among mothers. Furthermore, we also wanted to know if wine-mom-consistent drinking interacted with these risk factors in predicting the alcohol outcomes.
Our study: Examining body dissatisfaction, stress, and wine-mom-consistent drinking
In our study, we collected data from 466 mothers who were from the United Kingdom and the United States) as part of a project titled Alcohol use, health behaviors, parenting, and motherhood. Through an online survey, participants reported their stress levels (within the previous month), their body dissatisfaction, their alcohol use (including problematic alcohol use and FAD), and whether the drinking behaviours promoted by wine-mom culture corresponded with their own alcohol use (which we termed wine-mom-consistent drinking).
Drilling down into the findings: What role do the variables play in the alcohol outcomes?
Our results indicated that wine-mom-consistent drinking was linked to problematic alcohol use and all four FAD dimensions (alcohol effects, bulimia, dietary restraint and exercise, restriction). We also looked at women who reported wine-mom-consistent drinking in the study (compared to the mothers who did not report wine-mom-consistent drinking). In our study, interestingly, the relationship between stress and FAD-alcohol effects and FAD-restriction was only present among mothers who reported wine-mom-consistent drinking. Therefore, drinking like a “wine-mom” may not be benign. Furthermore, wine-mom-consistent drinking coupled with elevated stress could be especially concerning in relation to some FAD behaviours.
Placing the results in the context of broader epidemiological trends in women’s drinking
Our results are worrying. While women historically have reported less alcohol consumption compared to men, the “gender gap” in drinking is closing—something driven primarily by women in their 30s and 40s increasing their alcohol use (Keyes et al., 2019). In addition to the results discussed above, it is also noteworthy that, in our sample, approximately 28% of the mothers reported hazardous or harmful drinking, according to a cut-off score of 8 on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (Babor et al., 2001). While parents have typically consumed less alcohol than non-parents, this trend may be shifting and mothers are now an especially important group to look at in terms of their alcohol use (Adams et al., 2023).
Conclusions and final thoughts: Future research on mothers’ alcohol use is needed
Our study is not immune to the chicken-and-egg problem (which came first?) inherent to cross-sectional studies, which only collect information at one moment in time. For example, are heavier drinkers more likely to report “drinking like a wine-mom” or does “drinking like a wine-mom” contribute to heavier drinking and problematic alcohol use? Further research—and longitudinal designs (such as following women before motherhood and through their childrearing years)—would be helpful in clarifying the findings.
Nonetheless, the relationships observed in our study are concerning. Clearly, mothers’ alcohol use behaviours merit closer examination, especially considering how steeped in wine-mom tropes, memes, and related social media posts we, as a society, have become within the past decade. Our research aimed to better understand psychosocial and sociocultural factors associated with mothers’ drinking—not in an attempt to cast judgement, but to facilitate further conversation about drinking motives and women’s health in relation to alcohol use.
Written by Dr. Erin Hill and Madeline Mazurek, Department of Psychology, West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.
Their study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Alcohol.
Adams, R. S., Ledingham, E., & Keyes, K. M. (2022). Have we overlooked the influence of “wine-mom” culture on alcohol consumption among mothers? Addictive Behaviors, 124, 107119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2021.107119
Adams, R. S., McKetta, S. C., Jager, J., Stewart, M. T., & Keyes, K. M. (2023). Cohort effects of women’s mid-life binge drinking and alcohol use disorder symptoms in the United States: Impacts of changes in timing of parenthood. Addiction. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.16262
Babor, T. F., Higgins-Biddle, J. C., Saunders, J. B., & Monteiro, M. G. (2001). AUDIT: The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT): Guidelines for use in primary care. Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, World Health Organization.
Caluzzi, G., Wright, C., Kuntsche, E., Stewart, S. H., & Kuntsche, S. (2022). Double shifts, double trouble: Alcohol as a problematic panacea for working mothers. International Journal of Drug Policy, 104, 103699. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103699
Keyes, K. M., Jager, J., Mal-Sarkar, T., Patrick, M. E., Rutherford, C., & Hasin, D. (2019). Is there a recent epidemic of women’s drinking? A critical review of national studies. Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research, 43(7), 1344-1359. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.14082
Peltier, M. K. R., Verplaetse, T. L., Mineur, T. S., Petrakis, I. L., Cosgrove, K. P., Picciotto, M. R., & McKee, S. A. (2019). Sex differences in stress-related alcohol use. Neurobiology of Stress, 10. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ynstr.2019.100149
Rahal, C. J., Bryant, J. B., Darkes, J., Menzel, J. E., & Thompson, J. K. (2012). Development and validation of the Compensatory Eating and Behaviors in Response to Alcohol Consumption Scale (CEBRACS). Eating Behaviors, 13(2), 83-87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2011.11.001
Saunders, J. B., Aasland, O. G., Babor, T. F., de la Fuente, J. R., & Grant, M. (1993). Development of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT): WHO collaborative project on early detection of persons with harmful alcohol consumption–II. Addiction, 88(6), 791-804. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.1993.tb02093.x
Shepherd, C. B., Berry, K. A., Ye, X., & Li, K. (2021). Food and alcohol disturbance among US college students: A mixed methods scoping review. Journal of American College Health, 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2021.1947300