Cyprus Mail

‘Wine o’clock’: why midlife women find it so hard to stop


By Belinda Lunnay, Kristen Foley and Paul Ward

Many of us enjoy a drink at the end of a stressful day. But for some, this is less of a discretionary treat and more of a nightly must-have.

While alcohol reduction campaigns ask us to check our relationship with alcohol, emphasising the role it can play in causing violence and disease, our research has found many women view alcohol in a different way. Many don’t see alcohol as only a bad thing and have complex reasons for their relationships with alcohol.

We conducted interviews with midlife women (45–64 years of age) from different social classes. All had a relationship with alcohol but the nature of the relationship was different according to their social class.

Our study suggests the problem for public health lies in the circumstances that shape women’s lives and lead to a relationship with alcohol.

Public health messaging around alcohol harm reduction needs to be more nuanced, and tailored to women’s level of disadvantage and what support they can access. A message that hits home for middle class women won’t necessarily resonate for working class women.

For all women we spoke to, drinking alcohol was perceived to reduce loneliness and isolation. They didn’t just drink alcohol, they had a “relationship” with alcohol.

Women often have many competing responsibilities. Many described feeling invisible and unacknowledged.

One middle class woman noted alcohol could be “numbing”.

For working class women however, alcohol can provide a reliable stand-in support in the absence of anything else. As one woman said: “Loneliness is definitely a factor for me, and I think it is for a lot of women. And I think once you start having a drink, it becomes a habitual […] I’d like to see more done in terms of the loneliness because I think it is a real thing.”

Women with the most privilege drank to celebrate their achievements and enjoy life within social networks of similar women. Many middle-class women described drinking alcohol as a long-standing part of their lives – drinking for relaxation, empowerment or because they felt they deserved a reward. As one put it: “It seems to be that ladies our age, all the ones I hang out with, are exactly the same as me. They say, “Oh well, wine o’clock.” […] I don’t need it, I don’t have to have a drink. I just choose to.”

Many described drinking as socially acceptable, normal, or even “expected” of them. One middle class woman described “girl’s nights out” where drinking is “what I’m supposed to do”.

But, women with less privilege described drinking alcohol, often alone, to make a difficult and isolated life more liveable. Many working class women we interviewed thought of alcohol as a reliable friend that allowed them to cope with really difficult and sometimes intolerable lives. One remarked: “How is that not a positive? […] I’m not going to cut something out that enhances my life so much.”

All women have complex reasons for drinking, which can make it hard to “break up” with alcohol.

A blunt public health message telling women “do not drink, it is bad for you” does not address the structural reasons women drink in the first place – seeking connection for middle class women and dealing with isolation and hardship for working class women.

The positive and negative roles alcohol plays in women’s lives would need to be replaced, if alcohol were reduced. Society needs to pay more attention to the broader systemic issues underpinning women’s drinking, particularly the general absence of support for them during midlife.

Belinda Lunnay is a Post-doctoral researcher in Public Health, Kristen Foley is a PhD Candidate and Paul Ward is Professor of Public Health, all at Torrens University Australia. This is article is reprinted from the Conversation under a Creative Commons licence



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