Her Best Kept Secret
About the Book
Have you ever noticed groups of women clutching giant goblets of pinot grigio? How often have you seen a woman drain a half-bottle of wine while making dinner? What’s the first thing many women do when they go home? Make a dash for the white in the refrigerator.
In Her Best-Kept Secret, journalist Gabrielle Glaser uncovers this hidden-in-plain-sight drinking epidemic – but doesn’t cause you to recoil in alarm. Praised by the New York Times Book Review, People, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus Reviews, she is the first to document that American women are drinking more often than ever and in ever larger quantities.
Instead, in a funny and tender voice, Glaser looks at the roots of the problem, explores the strange history of women and alcohol in America, from Carry Nation to Carrie Bradshaw.
Glaser reveals that, for many women, joining Alcoholics Anonymous is not the answer—it is part of the problem. After all, two of A.A.’s key messages—that you are powerless over drinking and must relinquish your ego to stop it—are messages designed by A.A.’s male founders for men in the 1930s
Like Glaser herself, the book is optimistic. She shows that as scientists and health professionals are studying women’s particular reaction to alcohol, they are coming up with new approaches to drinking too much that work. Glaser offers contemporary solutions to a very modern problem.
While Alcoholics Anonymous is endorsed by many doctors, our judicial system, and is used in more than 90 percent of U.S. treatment facilities, study after study shows that it doesn’t work well for women.
Here are some of the reasons why:
- A.A.was developed by men. Studies show that men feel more powerful when they drink. Women, by contrast, feel calmer and less inhibited.
- The program urges members to surrender egos to a higher power. This might work for men, but women don’t typically suffer from an excess of hubris in the first place. Many of them are drinking because they feel powerless in other areas of their lives.
- The logic is off. Sponsors in A.A. need only be in the program themselves, not doctors or experts at treating a condition like alcohol dependence. This was understandable when A.A. was developed in the 1930s, but our understanding of brain chemistry has evolved a great deal since that time. It is irresponsible to imbue them with such power, and it can often lead to one of the more sinister aspects of A.A. for women: sexual exploitation. A.A. has become a breeding ground for predatory behavior, and its prevalence in A.A. is an open secret, often referred to as “The Thirteenth Step.” The dynamic is toxic for women, who often drink because they are trying to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, disorders which strike women at twice the rate they do men. Many even have a history of sexual abuse or eating disorders, causing self-esteem issues that make them especially susceptible.
AA is not the only solution for women drinkers in need. There are some alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous.
History of Women's Drinking
In the early days of the republic, the only safe drink was alcohol — and American men, women and children drank five gallons of it each year. That includes Martha Washington: In a collection of 500 recipes she left her granddaughter as a wedding gift, fifty were were for boozy drinks. She thoughtfully included a couple of hangover cures.
By the mid-19th century, sand filtration systems made drinking water safe, and white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant women set their sights on the prohibition of alcohol. Here, members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union state their conditions.
Reformer Carry Nation took it a step further. She used a hatchet to destroy whiskey barrels. She called them “hatchetations.” By her 1911 death, she was arrested more than 30 times on vandalism charges.
Prohibition changed everything about the way Americans drank. They found ingenious ways to make, transport, and conceal their liquor, as this woman’s 1922 cane flask demonstrates. It also prompted coed drinking outside the home. Nobody could ever be sure if the feds would come, so people drank quickly, normalizing the idea of drinking to get drunk.
After Repeal in 1934, American brewers and vintners advertised their product as refreshing and patriotic. Americans were used to sweet mixers that had disguised the taste of bathtub gin, so it took awhile. Rockwellian ads like these ran for more than a decade after World War II. A woman was always in the frame — as both a civilizing influence and a potential consumer.
Likewise, the wine industry promoted its product as a wholesome beverage every woman, from young housewives to grannies at a luncheon, could enjoy.
Less than a century after Carry Nation’s axe, Carrie Bradshaw’s cosmopolitans mirrored popular culture. Drinking had become a common female plot line. Sometimes, it was the plot itself.
Courteney Cox’s character on Cougar Town’s has wine vessels that hold almost an entire bottle.
Alternatives to A.A.
There are many, and this list is by no means exhaustive. First among the resources are those who use practical, science-based methods to deal with alcohol problems. Since no woman has the same reasons for abusing alcohol, it is difficult to say which of these methods, widely used in Europe, Canada, and Australia, may be best for her. It is ironic that the practitioners and groups listed below are somehow classified as “alternative” – especially since the methods they use are fully rooted in science. Almost universally, however, those listed here regard alcohol abuse as a maladaptive coping strategy rather than a disease. Motivational interviewing, a form of therapy, helps clients make their own decisions about how to utilize her own strengths in what making healthier lifestyle decisions. Harm reduction, for example, recognizes that abstinence is a difficult goal for many, so it seeks to help clients drink in a way that reduces harm to the drinker and those around her.
- Mary Ellen Barnes and Ed Wilson, licensed counselors in Rolling Hills Estates, California, offer clients five days of intensive, individualized outpatient therapy that uses a combination of therapeutic techniques in treating clients who abuse alcohol. The practice partners, who have Ph.Ds in psychology, work closely with a family medicine doctor who prescribes naltrexone for alcohol cravings.
- DeeDee Stout, a counselor, speaker, and author in Emeryville, California, has 25 years experience in alternative approaches to alcohol and drug treatment.
- Fred Rotgers, a New Jersey psychologist with too many credits to list here, has treated patients using science for 30 years.
- Marc Kern and Adi Jaffe, both psychologists, run a treatment center that uses a combination of science-based therapies at Addiction Alternatives in Beverly Hills.
- Mark Willenbring, a psychiatrist in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the former director of treatment research at the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, treats patients (and educates the public) with 21st century treatment.
- Stanton Peele, a psychologist, lawyer, and author based in Brooklyn, NY, and has been an outspoken critic of the disease theory of alcohol dependence for more than 25 years. He has developed the online Life Process Program for those seeking to change their behaviors. He and co-writer Ilse Thompson have a new book, "Recover!" by DaCapo press.
- Practical Recovery, in San Diego, CA, has four facilities: two rehabs (residential treatment), one sober living and outpatient services. The largest of the "alternative" providers, it was founded by Tom Horvath, Ph.D., psychologist, who is also the president of SMART Recovery.
- The Center for Motivation and Change is a private group practice in Manhattan that uses a combination of newer therapies to help clients decide the best path for ending alcohol abuse. Two of their psychologists, Jeffrey Foote and Carrie Wilkens, co-wrote a new book published by Simon & Schuster called "Beyond Addiction."
- The Addiction Institute of New York uses newer treatment methods.
- Scott Stern, a psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan, uses new methods to help patients decide how to change unhealthy habits themselves.
- The Foundation for Alcoholism Research offers grants for the study of, and information about, science-based treatment methods. http://alcoholismresearch.org/
- Andrew Tatarsky, a psychologist, is a harm reduction specialist and a professor at the New School for Social Research. You can find him at
centerforotpimalliving.com and andrewtatarsky.com. He's the author of "Harm Reduction Psychotherapy: A New Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Problems"
- C Three Foundation is a resource for those wishing to learn more about The Sinclair Method, a scientifically tested way to treat alcohol dependency using the FDA-approved drug naltrexone, a non-addictive opioid blocker. Actor Claudia Christian, who used the method successfully to treat her own dependence after attempts at AA and rehab, has made a documentary, One Little Pill, about how it works.
- Michael Ascher, an addictions psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, delivers holistic and personalized treatment for substance use disorders, as well as accompanying mood disorders. http://www.AscherMD.com
Here are groups that offer different approaches, as well:
- HAMS: Harm Reduction: A website that offers online support and live meetings for those who are interested in exploring harm reduction, as well as guidance and tools for how to change.
- Moderation Management: Moderation Management (MM) is a national support group for those who want to make changes in their drinking habits. It offers guidance in recognizing one’s own risky behavior, and ways to help moderate intake. It offers online support and live meetings, as well as tools for assessing and managing your drinking.
These groups support abstinence as a goal, but employ evidence-based methods in their approaches: Their names are self-explanatory.