Books That Make You Go “Hmmm”

Every once in a while you read a book that has a big impact on you.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol is one for me.

This one started out as a not-really-joking option for book club. We ignored it the first time it was brought up but decided to go for it the second time. There were jokes about how this was going to turn our book club into a dry event.

I started reading it thinking “this isn’t going to affect me, I don’t have a problem with alcohol” and finished it thinking “holy f&ck.”

Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything. But I maybe don’t have as healthy a relationship with alcohol as I like to think I do.

The author Ann Dowsett Johnston starts out by sharing her own story. How she grew up with an alcoholic mother (relatively rare, historically you’re more likely to have an alcoholic father) and howshe grew up with a healthy appetite for alcohol until it wasn’t. Until, for various reasons, she was having 3 glasses of wine a night, alone in a pub, before grabbing another bottle to take home, sleeping in and being late for work because she was too fuzzy to get started properly, jeopardizing her relationship with her son and her partner, trying to stop on her own for three years before realizing that she did really need help.

And peppered through her own experience with alcohol is a social discussion on the place of alcohol in the lives of women. As women have agitated for change, to be considered as the equal of men, an unintended result has been that we now have our own problems with alcohol.

It’s not a perfect book by any means. Often Dowsett Johnston repeats herself, or explains things a second time when it’s already been covered, almost like she doesn’t think her readers can keep up. There is an element of “when women drink, they open themselves up to sexual assault” like it’s the risky behaviour that causes it instead of the fact that men rape.

But it’s a courageous book and it’s definitely started a conversation for me.

Here are some of the things that stuck out for me:

  • Women’s bodies aren’t able to break down alcohol the same way as men due to a combination of hormones, enzymes and the makeup of our bodies (we have more fat then men). This means that it takes less alcohol for us to get drunk and it also takes a shorter amount of time for women to become dependent on alcohol.
  • My generation of women is the first to have alcohol marketed directly at them. Wine as Mommy Juice, alcopops, ready mixed coolers and flavoured vodkas? Those were created to appeal directly to women and they work.
  • Binge drinking is considered to be 4 or more drinks in one “sitting” in the last 30 days. Put your hand up if that includes you. (*raises hand*)
  • Depending on where in her cycle a woman is, alcohol will affect her differently.
  • That alcohol consumption has become so normalized in our society, we look down on people who are more tee total, who don’t really drink when they go out. But that as alcohol is normalized, we up the limits, flirting with alcohol problems.

I expected to read this book and go “that was interesting.” I ended up reading this going “some things maybe need to change.”

13 thoughts on “Books That Make You Go “Hmmm”

  1. Thought provoking. I have definitely seen women trying to drink like the guys. It’s scary though because, like you said, women just don’t process alcohol the same way men do. I have definitely been drunk in my lifetime but luckily only a handful if times, and overall, I don’t drink to get drunk. This is for a number of reasons: I don’t like the way being drunk makes me feel; I hate the thought of appearing sloppy; and for my own personal moral reasons. So for me, it’s usually a glass or two of wine a few times a week. There definitely needs to be more discussion on the dangers of female binge drinking!

    • I honestly never even thought about how that could be detrimental which goes to show you how effective the alcohol advertising has been. There were points when I was reading it too where I did think “no one ever says this about a man.” But the fact is our bodies just don’t work the same way. I’ve definitely been drunk! Never black out drunk or anything dangerous, I’ve always had limits but I can see how easy it is to keep going. One glass of wine easily becomes a bottle.
      I do think that this book is a good one to start a discussion that maybe is really needed!

  2. Ever since I read Drunk Mom, all these types of alcohol memoirs have been standing out for me. I keep wanting to read them, because Drunk Mom was so engrossing. But I also keep deciding not to read them in case they are all too much the same.
    This sounds good, though, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it!
    Great review! And, such a slippery slope…

  3. Oh wow. Lots to consider here. In answer to your question, my hand would have been raised too. I don’t consider myself much of a drinker (anymore – would have been a really different answer pre-kids), but I absolutely would be classified as a binge drinker according to this!

    And that’s interesting about how it doesn’t take as long for women to become addicted to alcohol…I’d heard that it takes longer for women to process it, but not that it’s easier to become addicted!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m definitely trying to cut back on the frequency of those nights that qualify as binge drinking but I had one barely 2 weeks ago.
      It was a really interesting reading experience – from going “that’s not me” to some shame and uncomfortable truths and recognizing myself and trying to process what I was reading. It was a workout!

  4. This is so interesting from a number of perspectives. I wonder how things change as hormones are removed from the equation? And if this came out after the NIH changed their stand on alcohol and women- went from 2 glasses of wine was not a health risk to only 1 glass of wine. I have 2 with dinner every night so I would be high risk, but I can’t even tell you the last time I had 4 drinks. A lot to think about.

    The marketing aspect makes perfect sense- I remember wine coolers! We had no intention of drinking wine, but if you didn’t want hard alcohol you could have something that tasted like fizzy juice. Alcohol marketing is right up there with cigarettes, sugar and fast food- target the women and children.

    • YES to your last point. That’s definitely something that Dowsett-Johnston covered. She likened them to tobacco companies in terms of the dollars spent and the potential harm caused.
      I’d never thought about the idea once hormones are removed from the equation. I’m surprised that the author didn’t either because she was in her 50s when she wrote it and the book seemed to move through different life stages: drinking as a teen, in university, as a young professional, during pregnancy, etc. This book came out in 2013 I believe…I think she mentioned that 1-2 glasses is where you get the health benefits that people always talk about with wine but that women go from 2-3+ glasses quite easily. I know I do!

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