Q&A With Author Gabrielle Glaser: Wine, Women and the Dangers of AA

Gabrielle Glaser on what she learned while researching her new book, "Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control"

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As journalist Gabrielle Glaser observed the growing infusion of wine into all manner of events — from book groups loaded with pinot grigio to Facebook groups like “Moms Who Need Wine” — she decided to investigate.

In her new book, Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control, Glaser notes that women today are drinking more than their mothers did — and 11% now report binge drinking regularly. But she was also surprised to learn that women who seek help for drinking in voluntary groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may face some unexpected dangers. TIME spoke with her about the trend and what she learned.

Why did you decide to write this book?
I moved from Oregon to New York in 2008, when the economy was tanking. I was overdrinking during the move. I was having lunch with a friend and all around us, people were drinking. We started talking about drinking [and women].

Were women actually drinking more? Was what I was seeing borne out by statistics, and was it real or was it something that was just more obvious in popular culture [with all of the articles and blogs about moms and drinking]? And I found out that yes, it was real.

How much were you drinking at the time?
I was drinking about two-thirds of a bottle of wine [in an evening]. I was uncomfortable, I had quit my job and was under all of this stress and drinking earlier than ever, literally at 5 and I couldn’t wait. I have three daughters, one was 15 and she wasn’t talking to me because we were moving, the others were 13 and 6.

What did you do about it?
When I got worried, I stopped for three weeks. I thought, “This is ridiculous. This isn’t helping me.” And it wasn’t hard for me — maybe the first day was. After that, I thought “Oh, this is fine.” [Now I drink moderately.]

You went to some AA meetings for your research, though …
I went to a meeting on the Upper West Side of all women, an open women’s meeting. It was around Dec. 30th. They were all like supermodels and beautiful. I felt like I was at the children’s table because I’m 5’4”. One woman stood up. She was there for her year chip [the anniversary of her first year sober]. She said, “There’s nothing more I’d rather be doing than be in New Orleans with my drinking buddies, with a bottle of rum in my hand and this sucks.”

Another woman, who had been sober 26 years, was pissed off that her family had been drinking wine at Christmas. I thought, as someone who has suffered from depression in the past, “How does this work for anybody?”

(MORE: Why Falling Off the Wagon Isn’t Fatal)

What is different about drinking for women?
Alcohol has different effects on men and women, and the triggers for men and women are very different. For women, I found that it’s about stress and depression and anxiety. [And what’s different now] is [their] chock-full schedules. Everyone [in the family] comes in and the minute you get in the house, [you think] “Give me my wine.”

Men drink more socially and they feel different when drinking. Men feel more powerful and more aggressive when they drink, and women calm down and feel sexier and warmer. They open up: it’s literally the opposite of being bottled up.

What about their roles as mothers?
When kids are little, it’s really hard to drink because you’ve got to be on top of them. You might need to drive. I have not heard very many stories of women who really lose it when their kids are superlittle. It’s when they’re older and talking back.

The research shows that role loss [like unemployment or kids leaving home] is a trigger. I think one big thing is quitting your job to be home with kids. It’s a major identity blow, and people need to think about that and maybe readjust their li[ves] so you can get some identity back.

What is a safe level of daily drinking for women?
The American guidelines are very strict: only one glass a day for women. In France and Italy, it’s double that, and in the Basque countryside [experts say that] seven times that [is O.K.] and people there [are very long-lived]. The centenarians in Icaria drink between three to four glasses a day. But they have high levels of vitamin D, which is another really important thing. You need high levels of vitamin D [if you drink regularly] because alcohol can interfere with its metabolism and [the same is true] for folic acid.

Nobody talks about that. But it’s important to look at the reasons behind why we have the drinking recommendations that we do. [One] is because we are a very auto-driven society. Here’s what many [American] doctors have said to me, but no one wants to be quoted: “Two is fine, but three is too many.”

What should women who need help do?
Ask your doctor, “Are you familiar with new methods of treatment?” I know some who’ve gone with the Combine study [a controlled trial that showed that the drug naltrexone with behavioral treatment works best] in their hands. Naltrexone is not perfect, it’s not magic, but it’s shown more effective in reducing alcohol euphoria in women. Topiramate is another medication. Be prepared to do some looking. Find an ally.

You’re not as supportive of 12-step programs, because you learned that they can be havens for sexual predators, as you recently wrote in ProPublica about a family suing AA after a woman was murdered by a man she met there.
[She went to a rehab] that charged $42,000 a month. She was sharing room with mattresses on the floor [there] and [all the female patients were sent] in a van every day to AA and NA meetings at a sober house of only men.

She meets this guy there who has been ordered into AA repeatedly — four times that we can see — with a history of domestic violence. He had six temporary restraining orders against him, a really violent and manipulative guy with no hope for any financial security in the future because of his record.

And here’s a woman with a 401(k) and a house and a car. He gravitates to her and they fall in love. He moves in and they start drinking together. He beats her and she calls the cops. The cops drop the charges. She takes him back. He asks her to marry him and they get engaged, get into a fight three weeks later and he beats her to death.

(MORE: A New Way to Curb Drinking? Planting False (Bad) Memories of a Bender)

There is such a history of this that AA actually has a term for people who seek out vulnerable newcomers for sex: “the 13th step.” But who is to blame — the rehab programs and courts that order people into a voluntary, amateur groups that cannot police people’s pasts, or groups like AA itself?
I must say that AA’s sanctimony in the whole manner is preposterous. They could do something. People need to understand that this is not just a nice group with your best interests at heart. But doctors and probation officers and judges [also] need to be aware that it can be exceedingly dangerous for the most vulnerable people among them.

If it works, it’s absolutely fantastic. [But] one thing strikes me. I have chronic sinus disease. Over the years, treatment for it has changed. The only solution of my day was surgery, and today it’s the last resort. If it works for you, that’s great, but people respond differently to different therapies.

12 comments
soberon
soberon

Do not confuse the 'fellowship' with the 'program'.  The fellowship changes its emphasis about the literature depending on that make up of personality, its leaders, region, tradition ect.   and has certain 'tides' if you will.  The 'program' is a set of principles, spiritual in nature, which are borrowed/stolen fro many sources, mostly ancient.  The program is solid, the fellowship is not.

MikeRobertson
MikeRobertson

This writer did absolutely no research and wrote this article on one persons one time encounter with AA??????????? How dare you print this trash!!!! AA has saved millions of lives and families! Where is your journalistic ethics? Has everyone in this place sold out???? I am appalled!!! Mike Robertson

izzydoesit
izzydoesit

This article and its attendent thread is a tidy amalgam of misinformation: long on opinion and short on fact. The truth is, most people will die of their alcoholism and /or addiction with or without a program like AA. There are more people who come into the rooms of AA and leave--in a day,  a month, a year, 5 years or 25--than there are who stay. That said, those who follow the AA program have a much better chance of getting sober and staying sober (which is more, of course, than just not drinking) . Those who relapse after many years of sobriety always have the same unfortunate story: they stopped going to meetings, working the steps, working on their spiritual life. This is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual solution.

What most people are ignorant about, even mental health professionals, is that the substance, whether heroin, cocaine, booze, or pot, is just the identifier. Those who suffer from addiction in one form or other, including  those involving food, gambling, sex, or money, have the same underlying problem: a distorted perception of reality. This distorted thinking embodies a kind of fatal negativity which extinguishes hope, promise, the ability to give or receive love, self-worth, confidence, safety, and serenity, and replaces them with dread, anxiety, self-loathing, terror, paranoia, depression and a constant sense of impending doom, so that the person is driven to use whatever mood altering substance/activity that will distract him from his fear and kill the accompanying emotions. Alcoholism is not, as described above, a mainly biological problem solved with pharma drugs or behavior modification. Anyone who would espouse this as a potential remedy clearly has no clue about the nature of the illness. With all the press surrounding famous drunks who've gone to rehab--and gone again and again and again--there is still incredible ignorance about alcoholism that continues to be perpetuated.

People bash AA usually because they hear stories or form less-than-fair opinions about it without too much actual first-hand experience. Alcoholism is a disease of denial. We live in a culture that places man's sovereignty above anything else. Who wants to admit complete defeat?, as the literature says. NO ONE.  Until one is broken, he rarely is willing to go to any lengths to get and stay sober. We resist, deny, rebel until we are too weak to fight any more. That's the only time anything changes. Man is a creature of habit and control and it's only when he's beaten down, bloody, and has lost everything, that he's willing to admit that he might not be as powerful as he thought. 

AA will survive--and has done for 70 years--despite negative articles like this. The proof is in the pudding. As someone pointed out, it's not perfect, nor is it the way for everyone. Many people in AA go also to therapy and take medication for depression. AA has no opinion on outside issues. Since it's the most transparent of organizations, it admits anyone claiming they are who they say they are. (Miraculously, most people are who they say they are.) There are bound to be a certain percentage of people who attend meetings who are mentally ill, homeless and hungry, or sexual predators. (I've been in meetings for 23 years and was never preyed on and I'm an attractive woman. But I also don't take crap from anyone.)  Most people find kind, loving support by members of the same sex and general support from the group.

The other things is: this is a program of attraction and not promotion. Those who want it will find it and stay there, and some who don't will flee and say that it doesn't work. What they ought to say is, it didn't work for me.


JohnHandcock
JohnHandcock

As a 20 year member of AA I got to admit the program is far from perfect and there a dangerous predators and sociopaths at many meetings.

However, this book was written to make Ms Glaser money and her personal friend Ms Szalavitz should for ethical purposes point out the relationship.  Shame on Time for not catching this one.

Having said all this I have to point out that this book was written twenty years ago by Audrey Kishline, founder of Moderation Management, and wrote a book with the same name.  It is nearly identical in philosophy and tone.

Of course Audrey Kishline, drunk, in March of 2000 drove her vehicle up the wrong way of a highway ramp killing two people (a father and his 12 year old daughter).

The tragedy is alcoholism continues to be a blight upon mankind, creating misery and despair.  Ms Glaser's book is a "sqʼam" to profit off a serious disease.

counselorchick
counselorchick

Glaser's perspective comes from a journalistic viewpoint. She has no horse in the race other than the truth. The journalistic truth. The care for women. Hopefully, this will give steppers pause with their typical "you're killing alcoholics by turning them away from AA," or "you're just trying to sell your book" or "you're not an alcoholic therefore you cannot possibly understand," or "AA saved my life," "you are in denial," "how can you say this about a group that has helped millions," or downright personal attacks ... because they have no other recourse when faced with the truth about their beloved cult religion. Search the 'orange papers' and read the cult test and the biggest lies of AA for further info.

What's fascinating (and long overdue) is the look at women, specifically American women, and how our emancipation also brings access to the male dominated world ... and therefore, more drinking like the men. The problem is that metabolically, women become intoxicated faster than men since fat cells retain alcohol, but water dilutes it. Since women have more body fat and do not have as much of the enzyme (alcohol dehydrogenase) that breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream, this leaves women more susceptible to liver and brain damage. The other problem is women are judged more harshly than men for the same behavior. Being a 'lady' does not include drinking to excess. 

Something Glaser found, which we should all keep in mind, is the difference in trigger mechanisms for women and men. Her findings show that STRESS is the predominate trigger for women, while VISUAL CUES are the predominant trigger for men. Men reported feeling more aggressive and powerful when they drank, while women reported feeling calmer, less inhibited and more easygoing. This makes perfect sense ...

'13th stepping' is a monumental problem in 12 step groups. This type of abuse is rampant "in the rooms" and is dismissed, mocked and minimized. There are rapes and sexual abuse continuously and the victim is told to 'forgive and find their part,' and that these abuses are 'outside issues.' Mostly, just like in general society, the rapes and abuse go unreported. The court system has been duped into thinking that AA is safe to mandate convicted felons as a condition of parole. This practice makes the 12 steps even more dangerous than the emotional abuses (labeling oneself with negative affirmations for the rest of one's life - as if that weren't bad enough.) Worst of all, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services (AAWS) refuses to do anything about these safety issues. AA brings panels into prisons full of child rapists to convert them into the 'program' and then picks them up and takes them to meetings following release. The vulnerable members have no idea they are very likely sitting next to a rapist who they must hold hands with and pray. AAWS has a 'corrections kit' that instructs members how to bring criminals into their 'way of life.' Vulnerable young women are especially victimized, but predators are all over the meetings. Beware! Monica is a brave lady for exposing her truth on behalf of all the victims of predators in these meetings. And Gabrielle is correct - Monica is a 'statuesque stunner, with huge green eyes, curly auburn hair, and a husky contralto.' (That outta get the men interested in 'visual cues.') Monica has a radio show with thousands of listeners.

One place where Glaser gets it wrong is on page 83. She states that the steps are 'loosely' based on the Oxford Group. No. The steps are directly stolen and plagiarized from the Oxford Group. 

It is as true today as it was in 1976 - a good percentage of people (even 'real' alcoholics) can and do successfully moderate. The AA abstinence insistence is all about keeping the cult alive. This 'program' is not a program to help people recover. It is a program to keep AA going - since 95% of people leave. AA takes credit for spontaneous remission. The Big Book has a section that separates 'real' alcoholics as those who cannot ever touch a drop of alcohol lest their brains be trigged by the uncontrollable urge to drink themselves into oblivion. Hogwash. The orange papers are the result of years and years of study and are a very valuable resource. Why? You may be asking why? The truth calls into question the foundation of the multi-billion dollar treatment industry which (the majority) have one tool: The 12 Steps. Rehabs are in bed with 12 step programs and the sell of the "AA approved' literature. Money is a powerful motivator to keep the lies alive. The minimum you will pay for a month stay in rehab is $18,000. In fact, rehabs do not want you to get well, they want you to 'keep coming back!'

On page 109 - Glaser speaks of sociologist and scholar Jean Kirkpatrick. Jean realized that, unlike the dogma of the 12 steps, her problem was an excess of humility, NOT a lack of it. She lacked confidence and the 12 steps are designed to keep one powerless and dependent on the meetings for the rest of ones life. Kirkpatrick was one of the first to push back against the ridiculous notion that one was powerless or defenseless against alcohol. Rubbish. Dangerous rubbish. In fact, it has been proven that this misinformation promotes binge drinking. See the Brandsma Study for more. There is no lack of research documenting the dangers of 12 step program. (There is only anecdotal 'because I say so' evidence that the steps work.) Kirkpatrick founded the empowering secular group for women: Women For Sobriety. It is useful for those who wish to abstain. For everyone else, there is Harm Reduction, Stanton Peele's Life Process Program, Moderation Management and The Sinclair Method. Glaser does a great job informing the reader of the powerful work with Mary Ellen Barnes and Ed Wilson in the chapter about Joanna ... another brave soul.

I would have liked more research on the 'disease model' of addiction. Addiction is not a disease. Again, this 'concept' is all about money. Look at Steven Slate's research and the Baldwin Research Institute for more. Glaser does a great job explaining how Mann hooked up with Jellinek and used his dubious 'curve' of addiction to further the cultural hold of AA. As a student at the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies, we were presented with the Jellinek Curve as proof of the 'disease concept.' Of course, Hazelden is a billion dollar industry with their monthly (repeatedly if necessary) stays and their publishing company of 'approved' AA literature. They even have a 'bookstore' filled with nothing but 12 step dogma in the lobby. However, Dr. Marvin Seppala is slowly and discretely introducing Naltrexone into Hazelden. Of course, he must tread carefully past the cult religion in which he too is brainwashed, but he is also a man of science and cannot ignore it any longer.

We do NOT need to believe the 'powerless' dogma of the 12 steps. We need to be empowered and that is exactly what this book does. An invaluable resource for anyone who is struggling with substance problems or has a loved one struggling in the 12 steps - male or female. It does NOT work, even if you 'work it.'

OT
OT

I got sober in AA over 20 years ago and absolutely failed to do anything about my anxiety disorders or depression I had suffered from since age 12, long before I started drinking.  The message I received was that for an alcoholic the steps worked for everything, and if they didn't, you weren't working the steps right.  I saw predators of all sorts through the years, the sexual predators are the most obvious; the financial predators can be far sneakier.  I have seen sponsors try to leach off newcomer's health insurance for instance.  I never wanted to be one of the people who needed medication, but after 18 years of battling real mental health issues I got help, the change in me was unbelievable.  All those years I thought I was miserable because I was a worthless alcoholic (who hadn't drank in years); but now I feel human.

AA is its membership, make no mistake about it, GSO can say they have no opinion on doctor prescribed medications but a lot of members certainly do, and the last thing you want is to have your sobriety questioned for taking "pills" when being a member in good standing in AA is all you have to live for, and all the help you are told there is.  And if you are preyed on you are asked what part you had in it and told not to take the other person's inventory.  Avoid responsibility as a group, and blame the victim; those have become ways of dealing with untruths and unpleasantness in the fellowship.

I'm still a "member", I keep my mental health issues private and only go to a non-fundamentalist AA meeting.  I keep my disagreements with AA quiet also because nothing ensures being told that one is dry more than having a disagreement with AA. 

mcamp1189
mcamp1189

I  drank alcoholically for 15 years and entered into treatment for alcoholism 8 years ago when I was 47. I have remained sober by not drinking one day at a time with the help of a sponsor and a 12 step program. This disease does not discriminate, it affects everyone from those on skid row to professionals such as myself. I have heard stories of women who have driven while under the influence with children in the car,stories of mothers who have left their children in the car while they were in the bar getting drunk, I could go on and on. Once I have one drink I could never predict how many I would have but I do know that it was never just one. I would never be a moderate drinker. alcoholism is a progressive disease. People who have relapsed have said that they start out with one or 2 drinks and within a short period of time they were drinking more than they were when they had stopped. You do not have to be a woman with a home, a car, and a 401K to become involved with unsavory people in AA.

JaneMeeps
JaneMeeps

@izzydoesit   i dont bash AA . i just think it should give people false hope, i did all that was suggested and was promised a better life. now my life is hell. i have MS ,i am 30, im all twisted up in agony. you shouldnt make false promises to people.lifes not that simple.im too ill to come anymore anyway. its odd no one has ever visited me either which is sad (on them really)

feinburgrl
feinburgrl

So therefore AA works? Does not make sense. AA has about a 5% success rate. The same as not doing anything. Seems like a problem that does not work for no one. But AA is not about getting sober, its about keep AA alive and as is.

dissidentGuy
dissidentGuy

@JohnHandcock 

Kishline resigned from Moderation Management and joined Alcoholics Anonymous prior to the traffic accident you refer to.  That was a pretty big move for her to make, considering her prior work.  According to your rationale of blaming a group for the mistake of one of its members, AA should be blamed, since she was participating in that group closer to the time of that accident.

It's odd that you accuse critics of AA as having  financial motives, when it's well-known that the vast majority of for-profit and not-for-profit (with paid staff) treatment programs in the U.S. (ca. 80-90%) are 12-Step-dedicated and often staffed by persons who are essentially professional AA/NA members.  Such persons often use the powers delegated to them within the court system or licensing boards to foist their 12-Step religion on others.  Do you fit in that category?

JaneMeeps
JaneMeeps

@feinburgrl  how can you gain % rates when its annonymous and you dont keeps stats? agreed