But those Mad Men years took their toll. My mother wasn’t the only one self-medicating with a combination of alcohol and a benzodiazepine called Valium. By the end of the sixties, two-thirds of the users of psychoactive drugs—Valium, Librium—were women. In fact, between 1969 and 1982, Valium became the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States. In 1978, it was estimated that a fifth of American women were taking “mother’s little helper,” as the Rolling Stones called it.
It never occurred to me—not for years—that alcohol was the mother’s little helper of my generation. But it is.
Long before that, I was using wine to decompress, to ease into the second shift of the evening—and so too were my friends, both the stay-at-home mothers and my professional peers. As many women discovered, a drink is a punctuation mark of sorts, between day and night. “It’s a shift of gears,” says Janice Lindsay, author of All About Colour, and mother of two grown children who have both returned home. “A glass of water doesn’t make me feel spoiled. A glass of wine says, ‘Now you can enter the pleasure part of your day.’ I put on some music, and it’s a treat, even if I’m chopping onions. What else can we do? A massage is almost a hundred dollars and it takes an hour I don’t have. Wine is right here, right now, and I can share it with whoever’s with me.”
Spending a little time in my facebook newsfeed supports this theory–so many pictures of drinks and mentions of hangovers or getting drunk. Many of them include this theme of relief from the stress of parenting, home responsibilities and work. It’s not the women in their early twenties, it’s women in their 30s and 40s with careers (many of them are professional helpers) and kids that are in their teens. My friends list may have some strange selection bias, but I see few similar posts from men. This isn’t meant to imply that men aren’t engaged in heavy drinking. It’s just an observation that’s congruent with her post.