Moms & wine: a secret addiction


At some point you’ve told yourself you deserve a pick-me-up, like a new lipstick or a bottle of wine. And while this is behaviour we all engage in sometimes, experts are now warning that for many women, those mood-boosting treats are the top of a slippery slope into a secret addiction. Whether it’s an unhealthy reliance on shopping, food, exercise or alcohol, latest research suggests that women are at a higher risk of addiction than ever before.

The UK’s National Healthcare Information Centre has reported an epidemic of stress and depression among women in their 40s. “These women are likely to have children living at home, while working full-time and doing the lion’s share of housework and family duties,” explains stress expert Professor Cary Cooper. “While some may have healthy strategies in place to cope with stress, others turn to substances like alcohol or food, or behaviour – such as shopping – to ease their worries.”

These stresses also apply to a young mom, making all of us vulnerable to hitching onto a vice or two. But not only do we have more reason to reach for something to perk us up, there’s more out there to get hooked on, from online shopping to junk food within 24/7 reach.

Read: Saving time with takeouts

What's an addiction?

If a behaviour is causing problems in your life, whether fighting with your partner or being distracted at work, it’s a flag. “However, denial is a major feature of addiction, which can make it difficult to recognise whether you have an issue,” says Dr Mark Atkinson, a GP with a special interest in addiction. “It’s common for those with a problem to compare themselves to others or to excuse themselves in some way. It’s important to be honest with yourself about the effects your behaviour is having on your life.”

Where do you fit in?

We all fall on a spectrum when it comes to addictive tendencies, with some having strict control of themselves, while others are likely to get hooked. And where you are on that spectrum is the result of several different factors. Some studies, including recent research from the Yale School of Public Health in the US, have found genes connected to addiction. Then there’s your upbringing: if you grew up seeing your mother reach for wine when she was stressed, you may have learned to do the same.

Studies show that some of us are born with higher than average levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower levels of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine. These people tend to become depressed or anxious more easily, and find pleasure more elusive. They also show more inclination towards engaging in extreme behaviour – whether it’s over exercising or binge drinking – just to get that feel-good hit. So if you’re overdoing something, don’t be ashamed, but take responsibility for the problem.

Also read: 9 tips for a happy pregnancy

Signs of a secret addiction


You might have a problem if:

  • You feel ashamed of the amount you drink, and lie about or hide it.
  • You regularly miss commitments because of drink- you take time off work with a hangover, for example.
  • You have tried- and failed- to cut down on what you drink.

What's going on?

Recent research by the British Liver Trust found one in five women over 35 regularly binge drinks – and it normally happens at home. With a binge being defined as having double your recommended two to three units in one go (one large glass of wine), it’s easy to overdo it. Look at how much you’re drinking and how it’s affecting your life: would you have had that silly argument if you had been sober? And would you be late for work every day if you weren’t feeling so hungover?

Tackle it

  • Give your social life a makeover and start doing new things that don’t involve drinking. Try a dance class or suggest meeting friends at a museum or the movies, rather than at a bar.
  • Don’t eat too late – you’re likely to drink more on an empty stomach. Have a meal when you get home and you’ll feel less tempted to open that bottle of wine.
  • If you feel you need alcohol or are struggling to cut down, speak to your GP or visit an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. You can find one in your area at


You might have a problem if:

  • You lie to your husband, friends or family about spending.
  • You often spend more than you can actually afford.
  • You buy things just to cheer you up.

Interesting: How SA parents shop for their kids

    What's going on?

    “There’s nothing inherently wrong with treating yourself to a lipstick if you’re having a miserable time,” says Phillip Hodson, chair of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). “But for some, this becomes a habit that veers out of control. Even if you’re not in debt, seeking the shopping high can be a way of avoiding feelings you really need to deal with.”

    Compulsive spending is often on clothes and make-up, probably because women are more likely to have low self-worth when it comes to their appearance.

    Tackle it

    • Start noting down everything you spend, and look at ways to deal with your debt. This can be a self-esteem boost in itself.
    • Seek your self-worth elsewhere by finding a healthier way to fill that hole. Take up a hobby – anything that makes you feel good about yourself will help.
    • Try counselling. Focusing on your self-esteem (the underlying issue) could help you beat the addiction.


    You might have a problem if:

    • You think about work all the time.
    • The time you spend at work is disrupting your relationship, home life or friendships.
    • You feel anxious when you're not working- even on holiday.

    What's going on?

    “Often, throwing yourself into work is away of escaping difficult feelings,” says Dr Atkinson. “And you may be relying on your work for self-esteem. It can then be devastating if something in this area of your life doesn’t go according to plan –for example, you’re made redundant.”

    Tackle it

    • Be disciplined at sticking to your hours: make arrangements to help you do so, such as signing up for a yoga or Pilates class in your lunch hour.
    • Find other pick-me-ups. Voluntary work can make you feel good – perhaps you could even share your skills with students or others in the community.
    • Be a little less perfect. “Women often feel pressured to get everything 100 percent ‘right’,” says Hodson. “Instead, try to focus on doing things ‘well enough’.”

    More about: Bed rest and what the doctor means


      You might have a problem if:

      • You sacrifice other elements of your life for exercise.
      • You feel restless, depressed or guilty if you missed a workout session.
      • People comment on how often you work out.

      What's going on?

      “Exercise can give you a burst of feel-good chemicals, and that means it can –like anything else that helps boost your mood – be addictive,” says Dr Atkinson.

      Tackle it

      • Next time you feel uncomfortable after missing a workout, try to stay with that feeling. It will pass – and learning that will help you to feel less anxious in time about working out less.
      • Designate two or three rest days every week to help break your habit.
      • Get active in a fun way – go dancing with your partner. Learn to associate activity with pleasure rather than a task.


      You might have a problem if:

      • You feel ashamed of your habits.
      • You look forward to giving yourself a treat all day.
      • You reach for food if you feel a little down or stressed.

      What's going on?

      “Many of us use food to give us a lift, and chocolate is an acceptable way to cheer yourself up for many,” says Audrey Boss of Beyond Chocolate. “This treat only becomes unhealthy if you do it repeatedly, or put on weight then start to feel bad about yourself.”

      Tackle it

      • Press pause. “Instead of reaching for a biscuit, phone a friend,” says Audrey. “Often you’ll find the craving passes.”
      • Find other ways to deal with stress and boredom, such as walking the dog.
      • Love your body. Put an elastic band on your wrist, and every time you have a negative thought about yourself, ping it. The idea is to realise how often you are self-critical, so you can challenge it.

      Social media

      You may have a problem if:

      • You physically remove yourself out of the moment that you should be enjoying and experiencing at full, to Facebook, Tweet or email others about it.
      • The anticipation of Facebooking or Tweeting about an event is more special than the event in itself.
      • You are unable to socialise and connect with people face-to-face (seeing people in a restaurant, sitting opposite each other).
      • You prefer to have important conversations such as break-ups and arguments through social media.
      • You develop unacceptable spelling habits and use “SMS” spelling for all written documents.
      • You receive or send SMSes while driving and have been fined by the cops.
      • Your first instinct of conflict resolution is to “de-friend” the person you are having problems with and block their access to your information.

      What's going on?

      “Because of the fast pace of today’s living, and the growing isolation of people who are either at home, in their cars or at work, we have little time to interact during the day. People turn to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, text messages, or email. This is more convenient because they can send a message any time of the day or night, and thereby feel connected to others,” explains counselling psychologist Karin Steyn.

      “Some even start extramarital relationships with people in othercountries over the Internet. They developreal feelings for this distant electronicmate because they can share aspects oftheir lives with each other without beingheld accountable.”

      Karin explains that the problem with social media is that once our basic needs are met, we graduate up to a higher level of needs and seldom stay satisfied with the minimum communication –an electronic relationship also needs to grow and evolve to be sustainable. Electronic relationships are not a healthy replacement for real human contact, support and interaction, she insists.

      “Electronic media is everywhere, and dealing with this addiction is not as simple as just avoiding bars or the shops or making new friends; it’s about learning new life management habits,” Karin concludes.

      Tackle it

      • Develop strict rules about where and when you allow electronic devices to be permitted in the daily family routine.
      • Spend quality time with the people in your life and make an appearance in person at important life stage events and celebrations of friends and family members. Don’t just send a message and think that’s enough.
      • Find a therapist who could help you develop healthy life skills so you don’t feel the need to constantly share your life on social media sites without real consequence or interaction.
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