Why wine o’clock is becoming a problem for midlife women

While younger women are drinking less, mid-life women are leaning into wine o’clock culture and the potential health impacts are worrying.

How many times after a hectic day at work or at home have you opened a bottle of wine and poured yourself a generous glass or two?

Perhaps it’s become a ritual that draws a line under the day – at wine o’clock jobs and responsibilities are put aside for me time.

Research is showing that wine o’clock has become a ritual for many women in midlife.

Weighed down by caring for children and elderly parents while juggling paid work, household chores and relationships, at the end of the day some women are seeking sanctuary with alcohol, Menzies School of Health Research public health researcher Mia Miller explains.

“For younger women, there has been a general decline in alcohol consumption, but our research is finding that a lot of midlife women – those aged between 40 and 65 – are using alcohol as a way to cope,” Mia says.

“Women with kids and those in midlife talk about drinking alcohol as a way of relaxing – they demarcate the end of their busy days with wine and that ritual has become ingrained.

“But the health risks of alcohol mean it’s not an ideal way to relax and there are concerns that wine o’clock is becoming habitual.”

How a pandemic has contributed to wine o’clock

Mia says there is emerging evidence that wine o’clock became more widespread during the Covid-19 lockdowns when women bore the brunt of working from home and home schooling.

Roy Morgan research found the number of Australian women who drank from 2020 to 2021 rose rose 3.7 per cent to 50.5 per cent.

“A lot of female drinking occurs in the home, so in lockdown there were more opportunities for women to drink and because alcohol is addictive, there is potential that women may continue to drink at the levels they drank at during the pandemic,” Mia says.

Drinking is also part and parcel of socialising and this can bring expectations that women will drink to be part of celebrations and gatherings.

Torrens University in Adelaide Centre for Public Health Equity and Human Flourishing researcher, Dr Belinda Lunnay, says the wine o’clock ritual reflects the perception that authentic, hardworking middle-aged women need wine to cope, and if you don’t, you are not working hard enough.

“Women want to reduce their alcohol consumption, but there is social pressure to drink and that includes having a glass of wine at the end of the day,” Belinda says.

“Sophisticated marketing is also encouraging women to be part of the wine o’clock movement by ‘pink washing’ drinks including low-calorie wine, slimline packaging and label designs that specifically appeal to women.

“Social media memes also urge women to keep calm and keep drinking and (they) depict women multi-tasking while having a glass of wine, which normalises wine o’clock.”

How to help women resist the appeal of wine o’clock

Mia says in the long-term, there is no safe level of drinking and that alcohol is carcinogenic – it is linked to several cancers as well as increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and liver disease. As women metabolise alcohol differently to men, they are more likely to feel the negative effects of alcohol with fewer drinks.

So, what would help women overcome the lure of wine o’clock?

“Peer support is important – women need to feel that people in their social network might be thinking about reducing their alcohol intake, too, and that it is possible to socialise without alcohol,” Belinda says.

“It’s not always possible for women to be able to go to a yoga class with friends in order to relax.

“Women who drink alcohol regularly to cope with stresses need support to find other ways to unwind after a busy day.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.