Pubdate: Sun, 04 Oct 2020
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2020 The New York Times Company
Author: Jessica Grose


7:51 p.m.: It's exactly 125 days tomorrow. I am pretg drink.

7:52 p.m.: Drunk.

7:52 p.m. I can tell. :-)

I have a years-long WhatsApp message group with a handful of fellow
mothers of small children from across the United States and Canada.
Since the pandemic began, what I refer to as "mom chats after dark"
start at around 7:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. That's when the
children are asleep, and a wave of inebriation begins on the shores of
the Atlantic and crashes across the continent. The above message was
from July, when we hit 125 days of lockdown.

12:10 a.m.: I'm really high and eating this cake right now and it's
sooooo [expletive deleted] good.

That one is from a mother in California in early September, when she
was trapped inside with her three children for days because the air
was so thick with smoke that it was unsafe to breathe outside.

Since the pandemic began, members of the group have experienced job
losses, wildfires, weekslong power outages from tropical storms,
political unrest, elderly parents with Covid-19, a news cycle on turbo
and unending days filled with educating, feeding and caring for their
children while also trying to fit in eight or more hours of work.

And we're the lucky ones who can meet our children's basic needs.
Somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of parents of children under 5
have worried about their children getting enough to eat since the
pandemic started, and many who cannot work remotely are scrambling for
coverage with the fitful reopening of day care centers and schools.

The increase of substance use among parents is "just kind of
understandable," said Jonathan Metzl, the director of the department
of medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt University. "This is an
incredible, once-in-an-epoch stressful situation, and the kinds of
outlets people usually have in their lives are just not available." We
can't go to the office, we can't go to the gym, we can't really see
friends or family, and we never get a break."

"My hobby is doom scrolling and learning the science of Covid and
smoking weed and sitting on the toilet staring at the wall," said
Julie Kortekaas, 36, a mother of two children, ages 10 and 18, and a
health-food restaurant owner in London, Ontario. "I just hide in my
bathroom and vape," she said, to deal with the stresses of a
restaurant industry that's unrelentingly bleak, customers who are
anti-mask and a husband who works as a house painter and is concerned
about virus risk in other people's homes.

Ms. Kortekaas has increased her marijuana intake since the pandemic
started (it is legal in Canada). "I smoke some weed and am able to
calm down and clean my kitchen and do my laundry and do some regular
person things," she said.

Though there aren't reliable statistics that break down parents' use
of alcohol, marijuana and anti-anxiety medications specifically,
overall adult use of these substances has gone up since the pandemic
began, said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the director of the National Institute
on Drug Abuse.

A nationally representative study of more than 1,500 Americans over 30
published in JAMA Network Open, showed that alcohol use is up among
all adults in that age range, but in particular, among non-Hispanic
white people, women and those between 30 and 59.

Many states where marijuana is legal have seen a big increase in sales
since the virus began; for example, in Washington State, "cannabis
revenue spiked at the height of the pandemic," according to budget
analysis from a local news radio station, KXLY. And some data from
earlier in the pandemic showed that prescriptions for anti-anxiety
medications were on the rise. Prescriptions for Klonopin and other
similar drugs rose 10.2 percent in March 2020 from March 2019, The
Wall Street Journal reported, citing statistics from IQVIA, a health
research firm .

Parents aren't just using substances as a means of relief. For some,
it's also a ritual that helps them separate work from play when no one
ever leaves the house. At 5 p.m. Bree Sanchez, 45, and her husband
have a drink in their backyard.

"We need to shape this day a little, a transition to our next thing,
which is laundry, dinner, cleaning stuff up," said Ms. Sanchez, an art
director and mother of two children, ages 9 and 11, in the Bay Area.
Their daily cocktail is "a way to pause and talk to each other, and
the kids will leave us alone."

Though a desire to blunt the pain and uncertainty of 2020 with all
manners of substances is understandable, Dr. Volkow worries that many
parents won't be able to tell when their drinking or drug use tips
into dangerous territory. "It's hard to be aware you're falling into a
pattern that's problematic," she said, adding that people with
substance abuse disorders may rationalize any amount of intake, and
may not be able to recognize that they're increasing their use over
time. From Miltown to 'Wine Moms'

Middle-class parents' self-medication has long been recreationalized,
even romanticized in America (so long as they were white); think of
sitcom dads pouring a drink and sinking into the BarcaLounger after a
long day with Bob in accounting, or neurasthenic moms popping pink
capsules while the casserole browns.

Starting in the postwar period, tranquilizers were marketed and prescribed to 
many women who were experiencing discontent related to their domestic roles. 
At the time, there was a great deal of cultural panic about them becoming too 
powerful outside the home, said Dr. Metzl, who is also the author of "Prozac 
on the Couch: Prescribing Gender in the Era of Wonder Drugs."

They had enjoyed a measure of autonomy and employment outside the home
during World War II, and after it was over, men returned and expected
their wives to happily retreat to the kitchen and the nursery so they
could take their jobs back.

The first drug to be marketed as "a drug for the tensions of the
motherhood role," was Miltown in the '50s, Dr. Metzl said, followed
less than a decade later by Valium.

These powerful drugs were sold as a way to sedate women who didn't fit
the 1950s submissive ideal later satirized to chilling effect in "The
Stepford Wives." In 1966, the Rolling Stones released their infamous
track "Mother's Little Helper," placing the blame on tranquilized
mothers for needing a pill just to get through the day (coming from a
band known for its louche drug use).

A particularly offensive ad from the '60s called "The Battered Parent
Syndrome" implies that Miltown is the cure for any unhappiness a
college-educated woman may feel about "the guilt burden of this
child-centered age" or having to "compete with her husband's job for
his time and involvement."

A 1971 ad, for Valium, is about a woman called "low self-esteem" Jan,
who never married because she is "psychoneurotic" - if only she could
be sedated into perfect motherhood.

By the '70s, Valium had become the most prescribed brand-name drug in
the United States. But the cultural view of women and drug and alcohol
use was starting to shift in that decade, and it gave women much more
agency. Feminists pushed back against the over-prescription of
sedatives ("tired mothers might do better in working in the National
Organization for Women than in taking antidepressants," said a woman
at a 1971 congressional investigation of Valium).

At the same time, marijuana and alcohol use were associated with a
newfound freedom and rebellious spirit, and feminist rhetoric was
often co-opted to sell booze. ("I never even thought of burning my bra
until I discovered Smirnoff," read one 1970s advertisement.) But this
sense of revolution was only for single and childless young women, and
mothers, particularly nonwhite and unmarried mothers, were demonized
for drug and alcohol use.

There's not a clean, linear narrative of alcohol and drug use among mothers 
from the '70s to today, said Stephanie Coontz, the director of research and 
public education for the Council on Contemporary Families and the author of 
"The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap."

Still, she mentioned that starting in the '90s, what social scientists
call "intensive parenting" - a style of parenting that takes a great
deal of money, time and emotional involvement, mostly from mothers -
became the norm for middle-class families. And stress and anxiety ensued.

Despite working more hours, mothers in the 2010s spent more time on
child care than they did in 1965. That's around when "wine moms"
entered the lexicon: women who were using alcohol to take the edge off
a long day spent dealing with all the responsibilities of intensive

Social media has amplified them. They're winkingly letting us know that the 
expectations of modern motherhood are unreasonable by posting memes on letter 
boards like "Motherhood: Powered by Love Sustained by Wine" and drinking from 
enormous goblets on TikTok videos.

All that was before the coronavirus, when the stressors and
responsibilities of being a mother increased immeasurably. There's
more housework, more child care, remote learning to manage and a
contentious political moment with reproductive rights, among many
others, hanging in the balance.

"It's ironic we're having this conversation now, in light of profound
threats to everything women stood for in the '60s and '70s," Dr. Metzl
said. Gummies and Chill

Wine in a sippy cup is simply not an option for many parents with a
history of substance abuse. On Instagram, around 70,000 posts are
tagged #winemom, but when you look through them, you realize that a
small portion are posts about trying to stay sober in a wine mom world
- a difficult task made even harder by a pandemic.

Katy Maher, 47, has been sober for almost 19 years. The mother of
7-year-old twins in Chicago, she lost a job of nearly 20 years at a
recruiting firm. "I was devastated," Ms. Maher said. "I was bitter and
sad, and there was no closure and no goodbye. It's all due to Covid."

"I'm supplementing eating more instead of drinking," she said. "I'm an
addict, so it comes out in different ways." She said she tries not to
be judgmental of the "mommy juice crowd," but she worries about the
potential for substance abuse. "I absolutely think it's harmful in
many ways."

Dr. Volkow shares these concerns. She said that some signs of
problematic substance use are when you need more and more to get the
same effects, you cannot skip a day of use, or you're forgoing other
activities to use the substance when it's not appropriate. She added
that if you have a family history of addiction, you should be
especially mindful of your intake.

But for some parents, getting just a little stoned is the only way
they can eke out a small measure of joy in an otherwise fairly
hopeless time. Deborah Stein, 43, said her nightly pot gummy is the
one thing allowing her to get a good night's sleep on a regular basis.

She's the mother of a 21-month-old in Los Angeles and works in the
theater industry, which has been "completely decimated" by the virus,
and she and her husband are worried for their future livelihood, along
with the health of their families, the air quality, the election and
about a million other things.

After dinner, the couple splits a "chill" gummy containing 1.8
milligrams of THC. "It's a way of carving out this hour or 90 minutes
we get to spend together, before we have to walk the dog," Ms. Stein
said. For at least that brief window, "we get to be peaceful."