Will “Normalizing” Alcohol Use Among Women Create More Problem Drinkers?

Woman holding bottle of wine.

It’s not hard to see plenty of signs that alcohol consumption—even excessive consumption—among women is being normalized. Taken one at a time, these signs may not be startling. But step back and look at the bigger picture and things look a little more sinister.

For women, this is a special decade. This is the decade they are being invited to join men at the bar and match them drink for drink.

Well, that’s the way it looks if you check out the many examples of woman-focused alcohol marketing and popular culture items revolving around the same subject.

It’s seriously easy to find examples that reveal this effort to appeal to more women to get them to pull out their wallets and add wine or liquor to their shopping carts. Here are some examples:

  • The well-known, high-quality whiskey brand Johnnie Walker came out with a special-edition version of their drink labeled Jane Walker. They claimed that they would donate $1 per bottle to “organizations supporting women’s progress.”
  • Girls’ Night Out wines offers a selection of 16 wines that include “BFF Red” and a variety of sweet, fruity choices.
  • A winery named “Be” offered a pink wine named “Be Flirty.”
  • Some craft beers are directing not only their advertising but their very identities toward women. Consider the craft beer company High Heel in Floridathat produces a brew called Slingback. Or Chick premium light beer that comes in a six-pack that looks like a purse.
  • Anheuser-Busch released a pre-mixed drink called the Lime-a-Rita and created commercials for this product with women drinking and having fun.
  • Skinnygirl Cocktails markets low-calorie drinks for women who want to keep their weight down while they drink.
  • One of the most appalling examples of this drive to cater to women has to be the 2016 movie “Bad Moms” that features mothers who give up any pretense of being dutiful and get totally smashed instead.

Popular Culture

Young blond woman reaching for glass of wine—addiction.

It would seem that women drinking has basically become a source of great amusement and certainly not something anyone should take seriously. Try this: create an online search using the terms “women and wine amusing.” Request images only in your search results. What do you see?

  • A cartoon of a woman with a glass of wine and a caption that reads, “Wine is to women as duct tape is to men…It fixes everything!”
  • An old-fashioned image of a woman with a wine glass that is captioned “Oh look, it’s wine-thirty.”
  • Decorative signs you can buy that feature comments like these: “Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of wine and a dog.” “Motherhood: Powered by love, fueled by coffee, sustained by wine.” “For instance, happy woman, just add wine.”
  • There are also women’s t-shirts that read “Wine Drinking Team” and “Wine Tasting is my Sport.”

You can also buy similar magnets, postcards, aprons, coasters, glassware, hats, and socks.

Believe me, these are very short lists compared to what’s out there. In essence, all these images normalize alcohol consumption among women. If it’s normal, there can’t be anything wrong with it, right?

What Kind of Impact are These Actions Having?

Let’s take a look at a few statistics.

  • In the 1990s, only about 15% of whiskey drinkers were female. Today, 37% of whiskey drinkers are female.
  • The rate of alcohol-related ER visits rose steeply between 2006 and 2014, and the increases were steeper among women than they were among men.
  • Among eighth grade students, more females are drinking than males and among twelfth graders, there’s no longer a big gap between male and female drinking rates. They are even.
  • A report from Harvard University noted that alcohol consumption was increasing faster among older women than older men.
  • Perhaps the most important statistic is this one: Problem drinking among women rose about 58% between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. Problem drinking should never be considered normal.

Dissenting Voices

Woman sitting inside a glass

Not everyone is fooled by these efforts to bring women into the fold of enthusiastic alcohol consumers.

Retired NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took to the entertainment magazine Hollywood Reporter to call out the alcohol and entertainment industries for their efforts to glamorize binge-drinking for women. He lists examples of women being applauded for being willing to throw caution to the winds and drink with abandon. Explaining his objection, he said, “It’s about how, in the guise of empowerment—“Look, everyone, girls can drink just as hard and act just as stupid as guys”—women are more consistently being portrayed as insecure and needy.”

The charitable group IOGT International casts light on the motivations that might be at the heart of alcohol beverage companies’ focus on women. An article titled “Big Alcohol’s Attack on Women,” the author notes that for years, alcohol companies alienated women by objectifying them in advertisements for alcohol. Consider the Old Milwaukee advertising campaigns from several years ago that featured the Swedish Bikini Team.

The article also observes that in 2015, the CEO of SABMiller stated that beer advertising was “was either dismissive of or insulting to, women” and that the industry should “modernize beer.” After all, they had a huge, untapped market they could expand into.

In the United States, 50% of cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) involved alcohol…”

The IOGT International article notes a further reason women might hold a grudge against alcohol manufacturers. It notes, “In the United States, 50% of cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) involved alcohol.”

And so it appears that the effort was born to convince women to forget any objectification or suffering they might have experienced in the past. Drinks that appeal to women, ads featuring men and women having fun, staying fit, partying, appealing to mothers and female executives, these are all tactics directed at creating more female customers for alcoholic products, more profits for alcoholic beverage companies and nothing else.

Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.