‘Mommy Juice' Might Be a Pandemic Stress-Reliever, But It's Killing Women

More women are dying of alcohol-related liver complications as drinking surges during the pandemic, researchers say. The results are raising questions about how alcohol is marketed to women and if help is accessible.

"In the mornings I like to make my kids a PB&J, and a pinot-butter and jelly sandwich for me," the comedian Kylie Brakeman says in a September 2020 video.

She's in character, poking fun at the "cutesification" of alcohol addiction in the way wine is marketed to women. Now, months later, health experts are speaking about the very same thing.

Two-thirds of women surveyed in a recent study reported increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic, with the largest spike among married women.

The study in the Journal of Gynecology and Women's Health points to increased home stress, from spouses being at home more and more childcare responsibilities, as well as issues paying for or finding treatment.

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Separate from the study, Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist at the University of Michigan, is noticing an increase in alcohol-related liver disease among women during the pandemic.

The disease is the precursor to liver scarring or cirrhosis, the last stage of liver disease.

"What we've seen is a lot more isolation, people's daily routines have been quite disrupted. Maybe people who recognize that they had an alcohol problem now are struggling to get help, struggling to find resources," Dr. Mellinger said.

Increased anxiety and depression due to the pandemic is a factor in that spike in consumption, Dr. Mellinger said. And she pointed out advertisements that market alcohol to women as stress relief or a fun activity — things that might be more in demand in a scary period of our lives.

"Especially with kind of, 'mommy juice' type advertisements, 'rosé all day,' those types of advertisements that talk about it being fun, drinking a lot is OK," Dr. Mellinger added.

If you didn't know that was happening, Brakeman followed up her video with some pictures of mom-marketed wine merch, including a "Hakuna Moscato" T-shirt. There was also a tote bag adorned with the words "Mommy's fidget spinner" next to a drawing of a bottle opener.

How many drinks per day is OK?

To prevent disease, avoid heavy drinking: that's more than four drinks on any day for men, and more than 3 drinks for women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Dr. Mellinger also pointed out that women process alcohol differently than men due to a different body-to-water ratio, fewer amounts of enzymes that can process alcohol.

"The combination of these things, body size, being a bit smaller than men, kind of all collaborate to mean that women just can't drink as much as men before we start to feel the ill effects of that," Dr. Mellinger added.

Part of it is knowing how much is in a drink: 12 ounces of beer, 4-5 ounces of wine, and 1-1.5 ounces of liquor all count for one drink.

A giant glass of wine might be more than one drink on that scale.

Help is out there if you need it. SAMHSA, the national treatment line, is 1-800-662-HELP (4357), TTY: 1-800-487-4889