Oblivion Drinking

Are YOU an ‘Oblivion Drinker’? It’s the chilling new term for middle-class women using alcohol to blot out the stress of trying to be perfect like Ruth and Jackie
The phenomenon is increasingly common among career women
And more so if these high-powered women are also juggling motherhood
Alcohol gives such women an escape from the pursuit of perfection
81% of women admitted that they drink above the safety guidelines weekly
They said they did so to ‘wind down from a stressful day’
By Antonia Hoyle for The Mail on Sunday

Like many women, when Liz Hill wants to relax after a stressful day, she opens the fridge and pours herself a large glass or two of her favourite Australian chardonnay.

A successful entrepreneur and owner of three tourism businesses in Hereford, she starts work at 8am. After endless meetings she networks with potential clients and, once home, is often still at her computer at 10, 11 or even 12pm.

‘My job is relentless but I love it,’ she says. ‘But because I’m working so late my brain is still buzzing at bedtime. Wine helps me wind down – it’s a release that says the day is nearly over and everything is all right. And it helps me sleep.’

While Liz’s evening habit is one many busy women will identify with, experts are now warning that her behaviour – and that of millions like her – is part of a dangerous trend they’ve termed ‘oblivion drinking’.

While you might imagine drinking to ‘oblivion’ means drinking until you pass out, in this instance, it’s actually about drinking to forget the day, or to escape into sleep.

And it’s become alarmingly common among women with demanding careers – especially if they are juggling them with motherhood – who find that, after a long day in the office, the only way to switch off is by opening a bottle of wine.

Indeed, experts are suggesting that alcohol abuse has become the modern ‘mother’s little helper’, replacing the widespread Valium addiction of Sixties housewives and offering multi-tasking women a temporary escape from the pressure to look, behave and perform as the perfect wife, mother and colleague.

‘Superwoman is a cliche now, but it is extremely dangerous. I’ve seen such a perversion of feminism, where everything becomes work: raising children, reading all the books, not listening to [your] instincts.

‘The main question is: what self are these women trying to turn off? They have climbed so high that when they fall, they crash – and alcohol’s a perfect way to crash.’

A recent British survey confirmed her observations, with 81 per cent of women who admitted they drank above the safety guidelines every week saying they did so ‘to wind down from a stressful day’.

‘This is an epidemic. High-functioning, intelligent women are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to take the edge off and stop their brain going at 300 miles an hour,’ explains Sarah Turner, co-author of The Sober Revolution and owner of the Harrogate Sanctuary for middle-aged, middle-class women who drink too much.

While relaxing after a hard day with a drink is nothing new, it’s the scale and sudden increase in the problem that has now worried experts. Thanks to the recession and an uncertain job market, more than half of 35 to 54-year-old women say they are more stressed than they were in 2008 – and many are relying on drink on a daily basis to help.

‘This is an epidemic. High-functioning, intelligent women are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to take the edge off and stop their brain going at 300 miles an hour.’

But just one large glass of wine, which contains around four units of alcohol, puts a woman over her daily recommended limit, while two bottles a week (around seven glasses) is 20 units – well over the recommended 14.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in stress and addiction at the Capio Nightingale Hospital, is deeply concerned about the rise in mature professional women drinking their stress away. ‘I see so many senior female lawyers and bankers who rely on a couple of glasses of wine at the end of every day – they can’t imagine life without it.

‘It’s a huge problem … These older women, usually with children, are drinking at the end of the day, often alone and in increasing quantities as their tolerance to alcohol grows.

‘Although it’s not alcohol dependence in a traditional sense, there are dangerous side-effects such as increased irritability, mood swings and the risk of liver damage, especially for those also on medication.’

And, ironically, drinking to sleep better actually makes the problem worse, because alcohol interferes with rest. When you drink close to bedtime, you go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when the body restores itself. This means you become even more tired, creating a vicious cycle where drinking nightly is the only thing that helps you wind down enough to sleep again.

Although Liz Hill insists she worries more about eating too much cake than her drinking, she admits her partner of ten years, Tony, 38, a draughtsman, doesn’t join her. ‘It keeps him awake, so he drinks hot chocolate before bed,’ she says. ‘But he’s learned not to stop me.’

Happier days: Ruti started drinking to distract herself from her job as a City trader navigating the roller-coaster world of stocks and shares
Happier days: Ruti started drinking to distract herself from her job as a City trader navigating the roller-coaster world of stocks and shares

Oblivion drinking is insidious. ‘It’s now seen as acceptable to knock back two or three glasses of wine a night, but if they’re large ones, then that’s a whole bottle,’ says Sarah Turner, who regularly sees clients at Harrogate Sanctuary who have been drinking one or two bottles a night.

And as the respite that female career drinkers are chasing becomes ever more elusive, their bodies begin to buckle under the pressure instead.

‘In our 20s and 30s we can deal with it, but as we age our body’s ability to process alcohol gets weaker and things start to go wrong,’ says Turner.

Combine the demands of a career with the pressures of motherhood, of course, and oblivion drinking can become even more serious.

This was the case with Jackie Brennand, 49, the director of her own sales company which turns over more than £300,000 a year. She lives in Rawtenstall, near Manchester, with her husband Chris, 40, and their three children aged 14, 17 and 23.

She says: ‘My drinking started when my children were small and I had an incredibly demanding career running a family company. As soon as I got home at night my “other” job began: that of wife and mother.

‘By the time I’d cooked dinner, done the housework, overseen homework and got the kids into bed, the only thing that could stop my mind whirring was a large glass of wine or two.

‘Without it I wouldn’t be able to sleep. It was escapism from stress, it blurred the edges of the many jobs I did and meant I didn’t have to face things such as worries about the children or relationship problems with Chris.

‘We would often argue, usually about the children, but then never discuss it. I could feel the tension built up inside me and a glass of wine distracted me from it. I didn’t think it was a problem. It ramped up when my husband and I launched our own company in 2006.

‘Like so many women, I felt that I couldn’t ask for help – in my mind that would be like admitting that I couldn’t cope. Instead, I turned to wine and what began as the odd glass became a daily habit.’

Initially, Jackie’s husband would join her for a glass but he’d stop at that – while she drained the bottle.

Less than two years ago she was drinking two bottles a night – roughly 140 units a week, or ten times the safe amount.

‘Like so many women, I felt that I couldn’t ask for help – in my mind that would be like admitting that I couldn’t cope. Instead, I turned to wine and what began as the odd glass became a daily habit.’

But Jackie was blinkered by the fact so many of her female friends in their 40s drank in large quantities, too. ‘There were a lot of us in the same boat. It’s the stressful lives we live.

‘It was Chris who confronted me about my drinking in 2011 and told me I needed to seek help. Deep down I already knew I needed to stop – I felt dreadful most of the time, and I knew that I was on the verge of developing a real problem.’

After much research, Jackie contacted a therapist called Georgia Foster who created The Drink Less Mind, a hypnotherapy-based 21-day audio programme, that you can download and listen to on your computer or MP3 player.

‘It helped me develop an alarm bell in my head which would ring – and still does – after I had one glass of wine. It made me remember that drinking wasn’t the answer and that I must limit myself to one glass. The irony is that what started as a means of relieving stress added bucket loads of extra stress to my life.’

Georgia Foster has seen this all too often. ‘A huge proportion of my clients are middle-class women aged 35 and over who are run ragged juggling successful careers and kids, and using booze as a coping mechanism like no other generation before,’ she says.

‘They’re putting themselves under huge pressure to be perfect, so nightly boozing becomes a crutch.

‘Inevitably this type of drinking can lead to long-term health, relationship and social issues.’

This was the experience of Ruti Ahronee, 48, from Bushey, Herts.

Fond memories of an earlier time: Ruti, here pictured on her wedding day, has gone cold turkey since realising her drinking had become a serious problem
Fond memories of an earlier time: Ruti, here pictured on her wedding day, has gone cold turkey since realising her drinking had become a serious problem

The privately educated daughter of an investment banker and solicitor, she started drinking to alleviate stress when she got a job as a City trader. ‘Alcohol helped me differentiate my off-duty self from the corporate woman of my working day,’ she recalls. ‘I felt carefree and not bothered by the roller-coaster world of stocks and shares.’

At first, Ruti’s career progressed in tandem with her alcohol consumption. She bought a flat in North London and shopped in expensive boutiques. ‘My drinking still had a veneer of respectability. When you’re enjoying vintage chablis in Michelin-starred restaurants or sipping vodka on a business-class flight to New York, it’s hard to look or feel like too much of a down and out.’

But it began to take its toll, and by 29 she reached burnout and left banking to set up a successful, but stressful, property development business.

‘By my late 30s it was rare a day that went by without me drinking at least one bottle of wine,’ she says. ‘Being single, it became my crutch when I felt I couldn’t cope. Other friends had stopped drinking to have babies so I ended up drinking alone.’

In June 2008, her property empire folded and, £500,000 in debt, she filed for bankruptcy, sold her home and moved back into her parents’ house. Now she was not only drinking to switch off, but to forget altogether.

One morning she woke up shaking, with an empty bottle of whisky on her bedside table. After 48 hours of non-stop tremors, she knew she had to stop. ‘I thought I was going to die, and when I didn’t, it felt like I’d been given another chance,’ says Ruti, who, realising the extent of her problem, went cold turkey.

This spring, she found a job in the admissions department at Cassiobury Court Rehab centre in Watford, Herts, where she helps other women who have come to depend on alcohol, as she once did.

It may be a long way from the high-powered career of her drinking years, but it is in giving up the pursuit of perfection that Ruti has found fulfilment. ‘At times my career, and the drinking that went alongside it, were incredibly glamorous,’ she says. ‘But ultimately I paid for it with my health and happiness.’

It is a warning other women who find themselves seeking relief from their stressful day in the bottom of a bottle of wine might do well to heed.


Amanda’s Blog


Firstly, you meet some people in your life who truly reach out and help you. Sarah is one of these amazing people. She has changed my life and helped me become alcohol free now that I enjoy every-day to the full. Words cannot express how grateful I am for her help, support and encouragement.

My Story
I was born into a loving family to parents in their forties who never expected to have children, so they were thrilled when the stork delivered me. They didn’t go on to have any more children so I was the only one. One may presume spoilt, well yes for the nice things I had, my own bedroom with a TV, but definitely not spoilt in attitude – my father was very strict and ensured I adhered to his rules.

My father and grand-father were nightly drinkers…enjoying one or two glasses of wine with dinner and then a few whiskies before bedtime. My mother had the odd snowball but on the whole preferred to drink galloons of tea rather than any form of booze.

I cannot remember how old I was when I had my first drink – not because I was drunk but because I was given whiskey on my dummy! My grand-father used giver me sips of his whiskey from a very early age and then my father would give me wine with dinner, he would also give me drinks on social events and on holidays – not many but as he said enough so I would build up a tolerance. He believed he was doing the right thing, his strategy was to ensure that no man would ever be able to drink me under the table and have his wicked was with me!

When I was 13 and 14 years old, I went through some traumatic events, which I would rather not discuss, but needless to say they have scared me. Soon after these events stopped, I started going out to pubs and clubs with friends. We lived in a big city in the North, where under-age drinking was was very common – they weren’t many youth clubs around, so we choose pubs and clubs to listen to music, dance and socialise. Given my tolerance I would often get merry whilst some of my friends would be in state, I rarely got drunk (my interpretation of drunk being staggering and slurring words).

I started a family at a young age and my going out days were few and far between. I never drank in the house, never had the urge and couldn’t afford it anyway. When I did go out, yes I would enjoy many drinks and be quite inebriated…suffering from the old hangover! But as these nights were few and far between I did not worry.

I went through university and built up a good career, evenings out became more frequent, about once a month, and again I would go out get drunk and have a bloody good night (well so I thought anyway).

As my career progressed I moved into the world of sales, so as well as socialising in pubs and clubs with friends, I was now drinking with work colleagues. I was still never an everyday drinker. Some months there would be one event, others there maybe five or six events. But I worked hard, I was bringing up a family so I deserved to enjoy myself – ‘because I’m worth it’!

As my friends started having families we moved away from the pub and club scene and onto dinner parties. I could always be relied upon for the ‘entertainment’, consuming lots of alcohol, getting drunk, being the life and sole of the party. Of course I was getting older so the hangovers lasted longer. For me I still thought this was fine. I was a happy drunk, more often than not buying more rounds than I should have. I never got angry or aggressive.

However, that all changed when my daughter turned 13 years old, the feelings and emotions of what had happened to me when I was that age started to surface. I became depressed, I felt worthless and dirty. So much so, that when we drank on nights out or at dinner parties, I would drink so much alcohol that I would pass out. I did not want to leave a party, I didn’t want to go home when everyone else did…I wanted to carry on drinking. It made me forget, it tricked me into feeling better about myself. I didn’t want an evening to come to an end. Clearly, in the morning I would feel terrible. Hangovers would last two-three days and I would have what I can only describe as anxiety attacks. I wanted to stop binging but couldn’t.

I still never had the urge to drink every-day but I would get in a state once a fortnight at first and then it crept up to once a week. I knew I had to change. I tried to moderate…but over the course of 18 months I only managed moderation once or twice. Once I had had one drink a switch would click in my head and I wanted more. The voice inside my head would say “Go on, you have worked hard you deserve it,” or “You’ve had a stressful week, you need a few drinks to relax”. Once I was drunk this voice would inevitably encourage me to carry on “Well you are going to have a hangover anyway, so you may as well carry on enjoying yourself!” I can’t describe how bad the hangovers were…they would render my useless the following day and then a nervous wreck for three days later.

I tried to be alcohol free on many occasions, sometimes lasting a fortnight and sometimes a month…but I would always end up having a binge. It would only take one friend to say, “You haven’t got a problem, just enjoy a few with me”…and then I’d be off!

My life changed when I got in touch with Sarah. I realised I could not become alcohol free on my own. I needed help. I went to a few AA meetings, but they weren’t for me. I think the AA does some amazing work and they help many people, but for me it didn’t help. I joined Soberitas and found the chat rooms and information online really helpful and it gave me a good start. However, whilst away with my team for a long weekend I relapsed – drinking from 6pm in the evening until 11am the following morning.

I had read about Sarah on the Soberitas website. I contacted her as I landed at London Heathrow at 7am, some 20 hours after my last drink! I was in dire need. She chatted to me immediately and arranged a follow up conversation for a few days later. Sarah was caring, warm and understanding. She explained the six-week online/telephone programme and I signed up. We both felt we could work together and the programme fitted perfectly with my busy life.

So I’ve completed the course and come out the other end. Not once in those six-weeks was I tempted to drink. Sarah‘s CBT course is truly amazing. She has taught me to love myself again. I am empowered to be alcohol free. I no longer need to abuse myself with alcohol. I can do everything that I love doing every-day of the week, rather than just half of it when I was binging. I see, hear and smell things differently. The amazing things about the world we live in and the people we meet now fill my mind rather than being supressed by the fog of alcohol.

Through this new empowerment and self-belief I am taking action against what happened to me when I was a teenager and addressing those issues. I can deal with the everyday stresses and strains of live AND celebrate the joy of life without reaching for a glass.

Sarah – thank you so much for your care, compassion and comradeship. You have changed my life, helping me divert away from the road I was on.

Georgie’s Blog

I had tried self-help books, sheer will-power, a little counselling and everything in between, and although not a ‘vodka on my cornflakes’ type of person, I knew quite well that I had a dependency for gin and tonic and wine. I hid it well. I knew I hid it well, but I wanted to stop hiding and at the same time I was scared to step out from behind the bottle.

Sarah, initially started talking about the weather… I thought, erm… shouldn’t we be getting down to business… you know the nitty gritty of my alcohol dependency? Yet this is how it works, or at least it did for me. Of course, I knew the truths before I asked for Sarah’s help, that is why I was so frustrated. Somehow Sarah seems to implant those truths into your psyche, in a chatty, friendly, talking about the weather-way. There seemed to be no huge deep and meaningful sessions, we just emailed daily with our lives and how we were feeling and reflecting on how alcohol helped and hindered us at the same time.

I am thrilled to say, that I am no longer alcohol dependent, I am alcohol wary. I can totally moderate my drinking because, and here is the key, I see it for what it is. I don’t really want it anymore, if somebody had told me that before I started I would not have believed them. I knew lots of facts about the booze, I knew it was dominating my life, I knew I wanted to stop, but I seemed powerless. Sarah gave me back my power and I now feel like the real me. I will forever be indebted to Sarah and I feel like I have gained a good friend. I would not hesitate in recommending Sarah to anyone who is concerned about their drinking, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.


Thank you again,


Alcohol Free Foundation

Years ago, I drank too much, I worried too much, I projected too much and now I don’t. I dealt with it all, and moved on.
For me, there is no room for self-flagellation, or what if’s, my time is concentrated on the here and now, and the exciting times ahead.
In my work, naturally confidentiality has always been key, but the more empowered The Sanctuary clients have become the more they are now beginning to start the BIG conversation in real time, about what was once a very toxic issue for them. Without stigma or tambourine bashing, they have overcome the fear around talking openly about their reasons for not drinking to excess anymore, and I hope as they do, that they will in turn encourage others who find themselves in the same concerned and worrying position to be able to do the same, casting aside any shame or guilt.
For after all, it was never a choice that we became so dependent on such a well marketed and dangerous, legal drug.
Alcohol is dressed up so adeptly as being very acceptable and glamorous.
It is also completely normalised, that for many of us, it was never considered ‘proper’ drinking until the wheels fall off, With the added easy edge, that it needs no prescription, just a grocery shop and a fridge.
Of course it is not the first time that we have been seduced. Gin was the craze in the first half of the 18th century, the Absinthe movement in the latter part of the 19th Century, and more recently, Mother’s little helper Valium washed down with Gin and Dubonnet in the 60s was a favourite mix for middle class Mums. My Mother was a victim of this over prescribed prescriptive drug, trusting advice that it would make all the tragedy and angst in her life disappear, sadly the reverse was the case.
65% of my clients last year were prescribed Anti-depressants, Citralopram, Prozac, washed down with a cheeky little number, oblivious of the fact that their drinking totally negated the effects of the other legal drug they were taking. I am delighted to say that only 12% still take them, free of booze, a proper clinical diagnosis could be made. So in many ways history is repeating itself. But this is a modern problem, faced by modern people, who wanted it all, and for the most part got it, except for the indisputable fact, that alcohol with it’s sneaky way of creeping up, can take it all away in a moment.
This BIG conversation will only start with us. Like minded people, from different backgrounds, who have had enough of the self-destruct button. Without being preachy or evangelical, by playing our wellness and clarity forward, we can make a change. We do not have a rule book, or belong to a cult, but we are very obviously, savvy, intelligent, articulate women who have now got control and choice.
Methods at the Sanctuary are not mainstream, I have no time for the depressing thought that I will be burdened with a lifetime of regret. The gold standards of care that are in place today, are antiquated and inconvenient for many. What I would love is that everyone who are concerned about their drinking, as I once was, is to campaign for at the very least gender specific care, and at best combine that with age specific care. To be told once you have decided to cork it, that there is a waiting list of many months is also totally unacceptable. If you broke your leg, would you allow a GP to fix it? Would you not feel safer with a specialist, most especially if there was a particular nuance to your break? There is a very lackadaisical approach to alcohol misuse, borne from the legality and acceptance of this drug. There is no value in poor and ineffective care, waste of time and money. Because of the drip feed with drinking, rarely do we count the financial cost of it. We did the stats at the Sanctuary. Last year the average saving per client, was £4674.00 per annum, and that did not include, any wild online shopping, guilt purchases or taxi fares. I have been doing a starfish impression for many years, and it’s now time, with right attitude to make a change. We have to be proactive, vocal and concise in the inappropriate way our once problem is handled. We need to speak with the powers that be, from GPs and upwards, we need to make bars and clubs give balance to the drinks on offer, and we need too to tackle our supermarkets and get them to address this balance also. You are the consumer!

We have to banish the taboo, there is none with sexuality or smoking, so why the hell are we still frightened of talking about once drinking too much? It’s insane, and the best definition of insanity provided by Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to change. We have all been there! We live in the 21st century not the dark ages.
Non drinking is attractive and glamorous, I cannot remember ever being dull and boring sober, kindly my beloved never took a picture of me at the end of my drinking career, needless to say it was far from pretty, witty or wise, which were the three things that I really thought drinking gave me. I became purely entertainment value, and then just an embarrassment. Shipwrecked on a sea of Chablis.
One of the only rules I have with my programme, is honesty, and it’s time in real life, we all got honest. No one will judge if delivery of your decision is short sharp and to the point. No more secrets and lies.
For me to be able to survive breast cancer and alcohol dependence was a fairly bleak prospect at one time, but not anymore. I needed logic and a deep understanding of women just like me, and studied hard to be as successful as I am today. I do know that there has never been a more rewarding time and if we can keep the conversation going and growing, I’m sure you will all feel the same as I do. Empowered and inspired. Everyone deserves to be the best they can be without ever feeling ever again an ounce of shame, guilt or remorse.

Now though we are opening up an Alcohol Free Foundation for all sexes, and to raise the funds this is the plan, and it will evolve.

We shall also be organising a training course for anyone who would like to become involved in this new venture. Already, some of my old clients are very interested in being a part of this. The cost of the courses will go into the foundation.
We have created an App, the cost to buy also will go into the foundation, and are looking to raise funds by other methods too. This I hope will network with those from all walks of life, never looking backwards though, never repeating the mistakes over and over at meetings, but using their experiences to play their wellness forward. Watch this space and if you want to be involved contact me.