The Dangers of ‘Wine O’Clock’ and How to Beat It

Published On: March 29, 2020

The UK is a nation of wine lovers. Recent YouGov polls show that wine has overtaken both beer and spirits as the drink of choice for British people. In fact, in a survey of 2,000 people, the poll found that 81% had drunk wine in the past year while 79% had drunk beer or spirits. [1]

This is not a new development. In 2015 a poll taken by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association found that people aged 25 to 34 preferred wine to spirits and beers. [2] This love of vino has led to the rise of a cultural phenomenon known as ‘wine o’clock’.

What is Wine O’Clock?

As well as being a quirky colloquialism used by wine lovers across the world, wine o’clock is a ‘real’ thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines wine o’clock as an ‘appropriate time to start drinking wine.’ [3]

The problem is that there is no official definition of when that ‘appropriate’ time is. This, some claim, has led to a huge increase in drinking – especially amongst women. Urban Dictionary defines ‘wine o’clock’ as ‘anytime during the day when a wine is most definitely in order.’ [4]

The first definition suggests that there is a set time to start drinking, while the second suggests that anyone can set a time for wine o’clock. This is where the problems begin. Healthcare professionals are clear on alcohol consumption guidelines.

For them, ‘wine o’clock’ should come once or twice a week (at most) and be enjoyed in moderation. For some, however, it has quickly become a nightly occurrence that involves the best part of a bottle.

How Common is it (and Who Takes Part)?

Excessive alcohol consumption is an issue for many people across the UK, but when it comes to the ‘wine o’clock’ phenomenon one demographic is over-represented; professional, middle-class women.

Recent government statistics show that middle-class households drink significantly more wine than any other and that drinking within such families has reached an all-time high.

Furthermore, middle-class women are two times more likely to be regular, heavy-drinkers than anyone else in the UK, with 1 in 5 women drinking to excess. [5] In fact, women, in general, are drinking more than ever, while men’s drinking habits have remained more or less consistent over the past decade.

This relatively sudden surge in consumption may seem to be a symptom of the perceived trendiness and classiness of wine (and wine o’clock), but this is a symptom in and of itself.

The Reasons Behind Wine O’Clock

The rise of wine o’clock has been driven by a number of factors, each of which contributes to levels of alcohol consumption individually. When they came together. however, they created, and still perpetuate, this concept.

1. The Domestic Goddess Trend

The concept of the ‘Domestic Goddess’ is controversial and pervasive. Women like Nigella Lawson and Laurie Colwin are famous for packaging and selling an idea of what it means to be a woman.

This is a simplification of something complex, of course, but it relates to the wine o’clock phenomenon. Robin Tourquet calls this ‘gratification for being the domestic goddess.’ [6]

These women live glamorous lives and make their living teaching people how to replicate this, with indulgence and sensuality as key ideals. Living up to this ideal is both stressful and addictive for many, and they often medicate with alcohol and in this case, wine.

By using wine as a reward, many middle-class women seek to relieve stress. But this also validates the psychological image of the glamorous, put-together, and erudite woman which this movement personifies.

Torquet argues that supermarkets support this notion by doing everything they can to make sure that drinking seems safe, fun, and accessible. [7]

2. Triggers of Depression in Women Over 40

Women over 40 are disproportionately represented in UK binge drinking statistics. This is partly to do with the ‘domestic goddess’ trend, but also to do with the triggers of depression and other mental illnesses in women over 40.

Of course, there are many different triggers to a depressive episode but the most common triggers for women over 40 are: [8]

  • Chemical changes caused by menopause
  • Stress at work or in the family home
  • Regrets about past choices
  • Genetic factors
  • Divorce

Just as these triggers can lead to a depressive episode, they can also turn wine o’clock into an exercise in self-medication. One glass can become two, two becomes three, and very soon many women find they are finishing a bottle of wine by themselves.

In some cases, this can be a daily occurrence. The normalization of regular drinking and the re-classification of wine as a grocery staple in the average middle-class weekly shop.

3. Wine in the Weekly Food Shop

Wine has become a normal form of stress relief and self-medication, especially for women. There is a wealth of novelty shirts, glasses, and fridge magnets to attest to this fact.

While many people who indulge in the concept of wine o’clock have alcohol dependency issues, there are many for whom it is simply a habit which is reinforced by societal views of wine and wine consumption.

It has become normal for wine to be included with a household’s weekly shop. As a result, wine is often readily available to women in these households. This accessibility means that it is easy to lose track of how much wine is actually being consumed on a daily or weekly basis.

The Health Effects of Wine O’Clock

The alcohol consumption guidelines which have been laid out by healthcare professionals are clear about the effects of alcohol abuse and long-term over-consumption.

The ramifications of consistent binge-drinking and alcohol abuse disorders are well known, but the long-term health effects of regular, low-level consumption are less widely recognized. Below, we outline the impact that daily alcohol consumption can have on the body:

1. Physical Effects

Despite evidence showing that there are some benefits to drinking red wine, in particular, wine o’clock is proving to be more harmful than helpful. Those who partake daily, are more likely to experience sleep deficiency, heart disease, obesity, pancreatitis, and fertility problems. [9]

These are only some of the potential long-term problems; liver damage, premature aging, and gastrointestinal issues are also more common amongst those who regularly drink to excess.

2. Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

The links between breast cancer and alcohol are becoming more and more clear. Professionals are now pushing to raise awareness about the fact that light to moderate drinking considerably increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

In fact, studies suggest that regularity of consumption is just as influential as levels of consumption, which makes wine o’clock a worrying trend.

3. Mental Effects

Mental illness and alcohol are indelibly linked, but the issue is a complex one. Regular alcohol consumption can cause or exacerbate symptoms such as depression and anxiety, but many people who already struggle with such disorders turn to alcohol to self-medicate.

This co-dependency is caused by the way in which alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain. By acting as a sedative, alcohol can calm anxiety, but also exacerbate the symptoms of depressive episodes. [10]

Some of the physical effects of regular alcohol consumption, such as sleep disturbances, can compound these mental effects further.

Does Wine O’Clock Affect Children?

For many who enjoy the wine o’clock trend, the evidence of physical and mental health ramifications proves to be poor deterrents.

This is, of course, partly to do with the societal acceptance of wine drinking, and partly to do with personal denial of actual consumption levels. When it begins to damage or alter familial relationships, however, many people are more likely to take notice.

The impact of wine o’clock on families is being discussed more often in popular media, but opinions remain divided. From a medical perspective, it is, once again, about exercising moderation and control.

Extensive research has been undertaken to show the effect of alcohol addiction and dependence on parent-child relationships, but cultural phenomenons such as wine o’clock are grey areas. There is some evidence to suggest that the children of heavy drinkers are more likely to follow the same pattern. [11]

However, current societal acceptance of regular alcohol consumption and the pop-culture fixation with the concept of wine o’clock (also referred to as ‘prosecco time’) is an outlying factor which has a real effect as well.

For parents who over-indulge, the most immediate negative consequence is on the quality time that they spend with their children. The physical and mental effects of intoxication, and hangovers, can cause lethargy, anxiety, irritability, and nausea which inhibit our ability to be active and fully present.

Am I Drinking Too Much?

If you already have concerns about how often you partake in a glass or two at ‘wine o’clock’ then it is time to consider that you may be drinking too much. These kinds of concerns rarely take root without due cause.

Other signs that you are drinking too much include:

  • Blackouts
  • Consistent, regular hangovers
  • Consistent sleep disruption and lethargy
  • High blood pressure
  • Hiding your actual consumption levels, or shame around your consumption levels
  • Expressions of concern from loved ones

If you regularly experience these symptoms then you may well be drinking too much, too often and it could be time to put a stop to wine o’clock.

Symptoms of Wine Addiction

In addition to habitual over-consumption or dependency, there is a risk that an alcohol abuse disorder could be at play. If you experience any of the following symptoms you may be struggling with a wine addiction, and it could be time to talk to a professional:

  • Blackouts
  • Increased tolerance/ need to reach intoxication
  • Hiding levels of consumption
  • Inability to set and stick to limits on consumption
  • Inability to cease consumption
  • Feelings of guilt or shame around consumption
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety following cessation
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, vomiting, or seizures

Reasons to Put a Stop to Wine O’Clock

There are many reasons why people are beginning to put a stop to wine o’clock. Alongside the obvious health benefits, both mental and physical, there are social and financial benefits that bear consideration.

Some reasons to stop drinking wine, or at least curb your consumption, include:

  • Saving money
  • Improved skin condition
  • Reduced risk of obesity
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers
  • No more hangovers/fewer hangovers
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduced anxious and depressive symptoms

When people are present, well-rested, healthier, and happier there is also a good chance that their personal relationships and career progression will be positively affected.

Life Hacks for Curbing Alcohol Consumption

If you are looking for ways to curb wine o’clock in your household, there are a number of things you can do.

First and foremost, trying the HALT test before cracking open a bottle is key.

When you have the urge to have a glass of wine, ask yourself are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? This AA trick was designed to curb cravings but is also helpful for identifying whether you are drinking for pleasure or as a form of self-medication.

Secondly, drinking from smaller glasses can help you to control the amount of wine you drink – standard wine glasses have crept up to 250ml in size. That is double the recommended amount.

Thirdly, try not to keep more than one bottle to hand unless you have the company to share with. Not having a large amount of wine to hand means that you must take steps to procure it when you want to drink more, making you aware of how much you are drinking.

Finally, have a decent alternative to hand. If there are times when you just don’t want water, alcohol-free or low-alcohol wine is a better choice.

Lifestyle Changes to Help Put a Stop to Wine O’Clock

If you are ready to call a halt to wine o’clock, whether or now or for good, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to aid you.

First of all, you should identify your triggers. Whether you drink as a result of stress or to immerse yourself in a social situation, knowing why you choose to drink wine is key. Once you know what these triggers are you can take steps to mitigate them.

First and foremost, be honest with your friends and family and ask that they support and accommodate this. Making social plans in places which are alcohol-free, or which are at least not alcohol centric, is a very powerful way to curb wine o’clock cravings.

Secondly, try becoming accustomed to drinking soft drinks or water when others are drinking alcohol. If you do wish to drink in moderation, it is best to start a meal with water rather than wine and to set a limit on how many glasses you want to drink before going out. 

What You Can Do Instead of Wine O’Clock

For many people, wine o’clock is the moment when they begin to relax after a long day or week. As such, finding a healthier way to unwind and deal with the stress of daily life is key.

The reward/relaxation relationship that many people – middle-class women in particular – have with wine is integral to the way in which the concept of wine o’clock has become damaging.

By pursuing health relaxation methods such as meditation, mindfulness, exercise, or creative outlets like painting the need for wine in order to aid relaxation can be removed. The removal of the drive makes it possible to truly enjoy just one glass, and to stay within recommended alcohol limits.

For those who may be fighting a wine addiction, these measures can help to curb cravings and act as healthy coping mechanisms.

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