Is wine a part of your wind-down routine?

Image: Flickr/smig44
Trust me, it’s not often (ever) I find myself defending the Daily Mail.

But I read a story today, headlined : 'Wind-down wine' alert: The relaxing glass that is turning working mothers into alcoholics."

The Royal College of Physicians says that, as society has become more equal, women have started to drink more, and doctors are seeing more women needing treatment for alcohol-related illnesses. The spokesperson warns that women who regularly drink at the end of the day as a ‘wind down’ are storing up health problems for the future.

What fascinates me are the comments on the story: where women accuse the report of sexism, complaining that men aren't berated for heavy drinking, and this is just another opportunity to attack working Mums. One woman says: Try being a woman with kids, a career and a husband to juggle for a few days and see if you can turn down that glass of wine at the end of a hectic day! Cheer up, a glass of wine never hurt anyone!!!

I'm not so sure about that. The number of women being treated for alcohol related illnesses has jumped by a quarter in two years. Women's bodies do not process alcohol as efficiently as men, meaning we feel the effects more, and for longer. The consequences of alcohol-related illnesses are more serious in women, who are far more likely to die if they contract cirrhosis, for example. That's not ideology – it's biology.

Until quite recently, I was friends with a woman in her early 40s. She was smart, attractive and ran her own business, balancing work with raising children and a husband who worked away. So her nightly G&T was a treat, something she looked forward to. No harm in that, right?

Except, the first time she poured me a drink, I almost threw up on the spot – it was easily a generous triple measure. And while I’d water down my drink and still take two hours to drink it, she would be well onto her second or even third drink by the time I left to go home. And she would do that four or five nights a week. At weekends, she'd open a bottle of wine, while her husband had a beer.

I’m sure this woman would be horrified – and insulted – to know I think she has a problem. She's not doing anything that many of her friends don't do, after all. But she’s regularly consuming two or even three times the recommended safe weekly intake of alcohol, which I'm sure has affected her health.

I worry that women are ignoring a real danger to their health because of a misplaced belief that it’s ‘sexist’ or that health professionals are somehow questioning women’s right to have a home life and a career – and get stressed by combining the two.

I'm possibly biased because I'm not a very good drinker. In general, alcohol either makes me depressed or it makes me want to sleep with unsuitable people, like that guy called John or Jack, who wore Lynx body spray and lived in a caravan. Also, alcohol gives me the entirely false belief that I am a GREAT dancer. This is probably why I haven’t drunk in three months, and often go years without alcohol.

Yet, if I go out with other women, I can guarantee that someone will ask me why I'm not drinking, or will try and persuade me to have 'just one'. I've been ganged up on by female friends in restaurants and shouted at when I've declined wine with dinner. I'm told "Don't be boring!" or "Go on, you'll make us look bad!"

I do think it’s a shame that we’re in danger of minimising the dangers of excessive drinking by shouting ‘sexist!’ and perhaps minimising our own drinking through female camaraderie – ‘I’m not doing anything the other Mums don’t do’.

What do you think? Is there any harm in a glass of wine at the end of the day? Where do you draw the line?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

20 Comments

  1. 19th October 2009 / 7:57 pm

    Hmmm I’m afraid to say anything for fear of sounding like an idiot, seeing as that has never stopped me I’m dive right it. I don’t think there is anything wrong w/ have a drink. I grew up in a family where having a glass of wine w/ dinner was normal. I recently went to A&E (sprained finger, thought it was broken) and was asked to participate in a drink survey. After answering a few questions, I told her that I usually share a bottle of wine on Fri and on Sat w/ my husband- that’s 1/2 a bottle with my meal. So I drink a grand total of ONE bottle of wine per week. ONE BOTTLE and I’m told I’m borderline alcoholic- WTF!! So I’ve lost all respect for these so called studies.

  2. 19th October 2009 / 8:13 pm

    Good grief, that’s ridiculous! And you’re not an idiot at all!
    I suppose my concern is more that it’s very easy to drink carelessly and to come to rely on alcohol as a daily crutch – it’s very easy to under-estimate your consumption and to dismiss the dangers as someone being ‘sexist’ or ‘boring’.

  3. Just a Mum
    19th October 2009 / 8:29 pm

    I don’t think I could survive without my glass of Pinot Grigio at 7pm. But my OH did notice I was starting to finish the bottle off more often than not after opening it, so I’m trying to be more aware of what I drink. It’s just so easy to do after a long day!

  4. 19th October 2009 / 8:37 pm

    I am a wannabe wino but an entirely unsuccessful one.
    Unfortunately after abstaining completely all through my pregnancy and until Kai’s feeds spaced out enough in the evening for me to feel like I could get away with it (which was only about a month ago – so two years off the good stuff), I now have the alcohol tolerance of an twelve year old boy. One glass of wine and you will find me remarking loudly and rather slurringly that I can no longer feel my feet and may have to go and have a little lie down.
    However, I can see the appeal. It DOES help me relax and is a nice way to de-stress.
    BUT
    As with all things, it’s effectiveness and pleasure for me relies on saving it for those times when I REALLY need it. If I had a glass every night it wouldn’t be the magical stress relieving elixar that it is and that feels like such a treat to me.
    Oh, plus I’m broke. Tea bags are cheaper.
    As coping skills go, reaching for a bottle can’t ever be one I’d rate highly. An occasional coping skill yes, but if you find yourself forever counting down till wine o’clock to get you through the day? Then you probably could do with expanding your range of coping strategies.

  5. 19th October 2009 / 8:38 pm

    It’s all a matter of how much I think. I do enjoy to wind down with a glass of wine. I don’t do it every night, but even if – I would think this to be normal and fine. However, being someone who can’t drink a lot without feeling instantly ill, and someone who has to really watch quantities, the alcohol consumption of virtually everyone I know in the UK has had me astounded again and again. There is no measure, the objective of a night out is to get drunk, and friends boast about how many pints/bottles of wine they can drown in a go. I really don’t enjoy that type of drinking.
    So one glass of wine a night (125 or 175ml) I would never see as a problem. half a bottle a night, or regularly a full bottle (or two as some have it) – that’s a different story. Sexist? I don’t care if it’s women or men who drink too much. Alcohol is a massive problem right now, causing bad health, accidents, violence, domestic abuse and also costs the country a vast amount.

  6. 19th October 2009 / 8:44 pm

    @Just a Mum – I’m sure lots of people have the same feeling!
    @Josie – that’s me! I didn’t drink much pre-pregnancy but then a year of baby-incubating then a year of breastfeeding left me with the alcohol tolerance of a small kitten. The potential embarrassment of passing out after a glass of Lambrini prevents me from drinking in company, frankly…
    @Cartside – You make a good point, I think it’s about moderate drinking versus drinking to achieve drunkenness – I suspect the latter is where many women – and men – get into trouble.

  7. 19th October 2009 / 8:54 pm

    I drank lots in my teens and early 20’s then spent nearly 5 years on the wagon due to pregnancy, breastfeeding and being woken by a child/ren in the early hours.
    Now I don’t drink at all on a school night. It makes Friday night all the more appealing when I enjoy a drink or two … or maybe three.
    Let’s not talk about my Saturday night consumption.

  8. 19th October 2009 / 8:56 pm

    I don’t think there’s any harm in it. I think women are generally pretty sensible about these things. I drink very little these days. Like you, it just doesn’t agree with me. So if I had a glass of wine a night I’d end up pretty ill and incapable of doing very much. That’s just me though. It’s a shame as I’d like to have a way of unwinding at the end of the day and I’m not left with much else!

  9. 19th October 2009 / 10:06 pm

    I stopped drinking several years ago. One day I just didn’t want to drink any longer and I can count on one hand the drinks I have had since I was 21.
    People regularly try to get me to drink and on occasion have spiked my drinks – why I have no idea. My mother and her husband will spend ages trying to get me to indulge whilst lamenting my brother’s excess consumption – FFS make your minds up, you want one child to drink and the other to stop?
    It seems that in our society folks find a non-drinker odd or troubling. Personally I find alcohol consumption odd and see all too often friends who use it as a prop socially or emotionally.

  10. 19th October 2009 / 10:07 pm

    I think there’s a big difference between a glass of wine (or even two) a night and an alcohol problem. My mother had an alcohol problem and she drank whisky, out of sight of the family, while drinking very little in public. I drink a glass or two a night, to wind down and because I (and my husband) enoy it. I guess it’s probably at the upper end of the advised limit but I don’t feel it’s a problem – and any more gives me a hangover.But having said that it does depend on glass size – if you are drinking those pub-sized large glasses, that’s several units more.

  11. 19th October 2009 / 10:40 pm

    Suspect I may be a bit puritanical, but I see a big difference between having a glass every night because you enjoy it, and having a glass every night because you think you NEED it and can’t manage without. I’ve never been able to drink much. probably due to being a long distance runner.That didn’t used to stop me binge drinking now and again though but I stopped about that in my mid 20’s due to hangovers which lasted all weekend and involved me spending the entire next day throwing up.I hated that I’d made myself feel so ill and killed so many braincells. I only drink wine when I’m having a meal, if I’m out for the night I drink lager as it’s so much weaker and you just can’t drink as much. I stop when I feel myself getting a bit giddy. Fortunately, I don’t care who sees me dancing like a maniac, even when I’m sober!

  12. Insomniac Mummy
    20th October 2009 / 12:56 am

    I rarely drink. Alcohol, for me, is something reserved for the odd social occaision. I attempted to have a glass of wine at home a couple of weeks ago and 5 sips gave me a headache!
    I think during the last 20 years it has become increasingly acceptable to lead a hedonistic lifestyle. The lines between wanting and needing have been allowed to become blurred an it is seen as abnornal not to wind down with a glass of wine/G&T/vodka/choose your poison. Infact, it’s seen as a grown up and sophisticated.
    I look at friends who can regularly drink a bottle a night, sometimes two to ‘wind down’. They would tell you they don’t have a drink problem yet struggle to get through a day and to sleep at night without a drink. Normal women with families and great jobs. It’s not normal, it’s dangerous yet acceptable and me and my hot chocolate are abnormal.
    Alcohol does not ‘wind you down’ it knocks you out. There is a difference. Alcohol induced sleep is not ‘real sleep’. You never properly reach the deep levels you need to restore your body.
    I have to say I am a bit of a puritan over alchohol as I grew up with an alcoholic. I hate seeing that change in people where they cross the line from sober into drunk. It scares me quite frankly.
    I think you have to ask yourself whether you want it or whether you need it. If the need is taking over it’s time to cut down.
    Having said all that there is nothing wrong with having a few drinks now and again. I would enjoy the odd drink out with friends but these days stop at one or two when I feel myself ‘disappearing’.
    Sorry to waffle on. I’ve seen the devastating effects alcohol can have on families first hand and hate to see it happen to others.

  13. 20th October 2009 / 11:17 am

    I recently stopped having alcohol during the week for precisely the reasons above. I didn’t need it yet, but it was going the wrong direction, even with about three to five measures a week (and a few at the weekend). I’ve had a lot of alcoholics in my family, so I am extra careful. I do think it’s a bit mean singling out the women, though. Men in the UK are drinking far too much, too.

  14. 20th October 2009 / 6:14 pm

    I like a glass of wine in the evening, but I make sure that I don’t HAVE to have one by not having one every night.
    Husband and I used to be in what I thought was a pretty healthy routine of having wine on a Friday and Saturday night, but not midweek. Healthy and cheap too. But that’s gone by the board a bit at the moment.
    Living in the US, I really notice how alcohol just isn’t treated as a joke. I think you’re right that it’s dangerous the way that British culture makes a joke of drinking.

  15. 20th October 2009 / 6:23 pm

    Over the past 2-3 years I did get into two very bad habits to ‘wind down’ at the end of the day. First, I started smoking. Stupid habit to start at the age of 39 but it seemed safer than heroin at a time when I was desperate for a crutch. Unfortunately, a cigerette always seemed to taste better when accompanied by alcohol. And my vodka measures were certainly not pub standards. Nowadays I still smoke but I drink a lot less. One drink can help relax me. More than one makes me wobbly and blog irresponsibly! Most of my friends have stopped drinking so much now – it’s as though our bodies just don’t have the tolerance and the resulting lethargy and sluggishness the next day just doesn’t seem worth it.

  16. 21st October 2009 / 9:14 am

    I have unsubscribed from a few blogs that constantly harp on about it being “wine O’clock” I don’t know why, but it irritates the hell out of me.
    I tend not to drink more than a couple of times a month, and then not to excess. Not through any high mindedness, but due to a very very bad hangover about 7 years ago.

  17. 21st October 2009 / 12:45 pm

    Interesting post. I frequently have a glass of wine or a glass of beer when I get home from work and I noticed the number of times I was doing that creeping up. So I make sure to have Perrier or Ame or one of those sparkling “adult” juices around so I’m not just automatically reaching for the booze when really I’m just thirsty and want something tasty.
    I really enjoy drinking but it’s funny how drinking and “cool” motherhood have become linked. If you’re “with-it” and ironic and all that about being a mum, then naturally you’re throwing back the wine and not sweating the small stuff.

  18. 21st October 2009 / 1:07 pm

    I definitely agree with Jennifer that somehow drinking and ‘wine o’clock’ and professing how you ‘need’ a G&T at the end of a day is often presented as being the cool, sophisticated face of Motherhood – while I’m not a puritan, I think it’s important to realise that alcohol is a poison, it is addictive and habitual drinking is a risk to health and happiness.
    As Insomniac Mummy points out, there are real risks involved in heavy drinking (to both men and women), and it’s maybe just worth being a bit less flippant about it, from time to time.
    Kath – my concern would be that very few women who are drinking habitually at ‘wine o clock’ ever stop to consider the need/want question until it’s too late – don’t you think?

  19. 21st October 2009 / 3:18 pm

    I don’t really have a strong view either way about how much anyone drinks, so long as they are sufficiently aware of it to make their own choices. But as someone who rarely drank alcohol, I used to get really harrassed by other people to drink when I didn’t want to, and made to feel like I was spoiling something for them. Then I developed a rather dramatic sneezing/giant hives allergic response to even a sip of alcohol, and instead I nurse a silent grudge against those same people for driving me to something so obviously psychosomatic….

  20. 21st October 2009 / 11:38 pm

    I’m no puritan, but I’ve been shocked by the number of people on Twitter and in blogs who talk about wine o’clock and needing a drink.
    Since I first became pregnant I’ve hardly touched alcohol. I couldn’t get up in the night if I wasn’t 100% with it. I’m such a lightweight now that a glass of wine gets me drunk. I have my moments, but they’re few and far between and never when I’m looking after my boys. I think it’s irresponsible to be drunk in charge of your children.
    Having said all of that, I’m pretty sick of the mummy-bashing angle that accompanies many news reports.

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