After a hard-partying, tiki-torch-throwing inaugural season on The Real Housewives of New York City, newcomer Leah McSweeney is celebrating three months of sobriety — and has revealed that RHONY itself may have been a factor in that decision.
In an interview with Andy Cohen on the Watch What Happens Live After Show, McSweeney opened up about her recent choice to become sober, explaining that watching the show as it aired gave her the chance to “self-reflect” on her tenuous relationship with alcohol.
“Obviously I talked about how I stopped drinking about 113 days ago. And I will say this, I just recently said this. Maybe had I not done RHONY, I would have kept drinking.”
McSweeney’s drinking has been a central topic throughout the show’s 12th season, both onscreen and among viewers. Her antics in the Hamptons and Rhode Island were widely documented and meme-d, and her drunken behavior at fellow cast member Ramona Singer’s birthday party was enough for Singer to demand that filming be halted and she even threatened to “quit the f**king show right now.”
McSweeney has been open about her unconventional relationship with alcohol noting that, before filming RHONY, she hadn’t had a drink in nine years. She struggled with addiction as a teenager and, as she admits in the Watch What Happens Live After Show interview, it’s “very hard for me to just have two or three drinks. I like to get really turnt up.”
“I have no shame about any of it. I want people to enjoy my drunken episodes because they are hilarious. And it’s not a dark, bad thing. It’s more like a decision I made. Hey, you know what, drinking isn’t conducive to my lifestyle.”
McSweeney is certainly not alone in her struggles with problem drinking. According to a recent study, one in eight Americans suffers from alcoholism, with female alcohol use disorder increasing by a whopping 83.7% between 2002 and 2013.
Yet, the social expectations and pressure to drink have only increased. Just a cursory internet search will reveal how prevalent alcohol is in the lives and “culture” of white, upper-middle-class adult women. Alcohol is often jokingly referred to as a coping mechanism for adulthood, particularly parenthood. You can get wine glasses emblazoned with the slogan, “mommy juice,” or a flask that reads, “mommy’s little helper.”
But there’s no space in the conversation when that “juice” becomes an addiction. In fact, when compared with people with other, substance-unrelated mental health disorders, people suffering from alcohol dependence are much more likely to face judgment, blame, and social rejection. Alcoholism isn’t viewed as a disease; it’s viewed as a social failing. And the undercurrent of shame that comes with alcoholism is so strong, and the two are so closely intertwined, that it can become easy to get pulled in and trapped in their vicious cycle.
So perhaps that’s why Leah’s candid discussion of her drinking problem is so important. She takes ownership of her behavior, acknowledging that there’s a problem, but refuses to be ashamed by it. And her frank, honest approach to her alcohol struggles is a quite refreshing message to send viewers, particularly those who are struggling with their own forms of addiction, and especially those who are afraid to admit it.
Leah’s outspokenness helps break the stigma long surrounding alcohol dependence.
And ultimately, McSweeney has no regrets. She said,
“I thought that I looked, all things considered, I thought I looked pretty damn good for being that wasted. I was kind of impressed with myself in that regard. And look, I’ve been very honest on the show… This is what Leah does when Leah gets drunk.”
“That’s why Leah’s not drinking anymore for a while now.”
The Real Housewives of New York City airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.
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Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won’t love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.