Quit Like a Woman; The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol | Book Review

We live in a world obsessed with drinking. We drink at baby showers and work events, brunch and book club, graduations and funerals. Yet no one ever questions alcohol’s ubiquity—in fact, the only thing ever questioned is why someone doesn’t drink. It is a qualifier for belonging and if you don’t imbibe, you are considered an anomaly. As a society, we are obsessed with health and wellness, yet we uphold alcohol as some kind of magic elixir, though it is anything but.” Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker

This book grabbed my attention for several reasons.  My best friend from college acknowledged it is what started her on a year of sobriety. There has been a huge mommy-wine-culture thing happening with funny t-shirts, wine sippy cups, and the idea that you need a drink to get through each day of parenting. Additionally, my five year old daughter is a sponge – she is observing and absorbing everything I do and say.  While she’s clearly a bit young for big conversations about alcohol, her ideas about “grown up drinks” are forming and it’s worth thinking about how our family uses and presents alcohol to her.

Holly Whitaker’s book combines her experiences with alcohol and sobriety with a deeper look at drinking in America today, especially for women. She frames her arguments based on the statistics that show women have increased alcohol usage, cases of addiction, and fatalities related to alcohol in the last twenty years. These are a few of the key points I found intriguing in the book:

1: She does not argue that every person should immediately stop drinking all alcohol.  Rather, she wants women to pause and think about why they are drinking, and how their drinking is impacting their life. Essentially, does alcohol add or subtract to your life? The author herself realized that alcohol was doing nothing to better her life; it was not improving her physical or mental health, her social life, her work, her relationships, etc. I really enjoyed that framing of the topic. After all no one wants to be told they are “bad” or what they are doing is “wrong.” 

2: The author compares the alcohol industry to Big Tobacco, especially as it relates to marketing. Big Tobacco spent years and billions of dollars telling people that cigarettes were not harmful; most of us today know that is false and we do not smoke. Whitaker makes the point that alcohol is in a similar situation. It is a drug (ethanol) that is used in countless poisonous substances like rocket fuel and house paint, but we add it to cranberry juice and call it happy hour. She explains that the alcohol industry in America has done a magnificent job selling the idea that alcohol is not the problem, it’s just people who use it poorly – hence the tagline, “Drink Responsibly.” Whitaker wonders if booze will ever have a reckoning like nicotine did.

3: Another interesting aspect of this book is the critique of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and how people are expected to become sober. She argues that the focus on the term “alcoholic” limits the thinking about how to include or exclude alcohol from your life – and that the stigma around the word prevents people from acknowledging they may have a problem. Whitaker herself created her own sobriety recovery program called Tempest; the second half of the book really focuses on how the author changed her relationship with alcohol and many of the strategies used in her program. That portion of the book was less interesting to me personally, but still well explained.

Having read the book Quit Like a Woman, I feel comfortable with my drinking currently. The occasional glass of red wine with a nice dinner, maybe a beer while watching a Packers game, or prosecco simply because I love how it tastes. But taking a closer look at that portion of my life, especially as a mom, is always beneficial. I want to live my life with purpose, and not simply do things because everyone else is or is not. I would recommend this book to any woman who wants more awareness of alcohol culture, and wants to be in the driver’s seat of her choice to drink or not drink!


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