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It's wine o'clock: How increasing numbers of women are counting the minutes to that first drink of the day

Maureen Coleman talks to those who say that relaxing tipple marks the start of me-time

It's been a long, stressful day at the office. You flop down on the sofa, kick off your high heels, switch on the television and uncork a bottle of your favourite Merlot or Chablis.

This concept of ‘me time' has been dubbed ‘wine o'clock' — that special hour in the day when you can finally unwind with a glass of good wine. But women are no longer reserving ‘wine o'clock' for a Friday evening. According to statistics an increasing number of middle-class, professional women are breaking the not-on-a-school-night rule and indulging in a mid-week tipple — or three.

Government figures released last year show behind the closed doors of the UK’s middle-class homes, drinking has reached an all-time high. And the number of women drinking more than the recommended allowance — 14 units a week — has risen over the past decade.

According to Victoria Creasy, Senior Officer for Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement with the Public Health Agency, women are more likely to work outside the home, which brings both more disposable income and, for many, increased stress in their lives.

“The past decade or so has also seen an increase in the social acceptability of women drinking alcohol and getting drunk.

“A trend towards drinking in the home also makes it easier for women to drink every evening without having to leave the house.

“Alcohol has also become more easily available and more and more affordable,” she said.

“One of the risks of home drinking is that drinks aren’t being measured out, and glasses used are often very big. This can mean that one glass of wine could be over a third of a bottle of wine and could immediately take a woman over the sensible daily drinking level. While in the past one small glass of wine every night has been considered low-risk, and for post menopausal women may actually have slight health benefits (protecting the heart), recent research shows that even drinking at these low levels may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.”

While many women believe drinking a few glasses of wine every night is less harmful than bingeing at the weekend, Victoria said the only way to reduce health risks was to drink no more than two to three units in one session and have at least two alcohol-free evenings a week.

“There is evidence that women can become alcohol dependent at lower levels than men, so drinking every night is not recommended,” she pointed out. “Drinking every day, even at lower levels, can also increase the risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer.

“If a woman is using alcohol on a daily basis to help her relax or to treat herself after a hard day at home or at work, she may want to consider looking at healthier ways to do this, such as going for a walk, calling a friend, reading a magazine or having a relaxing soak in the bath.”

‘People shouldn’t feel guilty about it’

Michelle McTernan (37) is a PR/events manager. She lives in Belfast with her musician husband, Jarlath. She says:

‘When it comes to drinking I have no hard and fast rules. I tend to crack open a bottle of wine come Thursday and would have a few glasses through to Sunday. But then something could pop up earlier in the week and I might have a glass over lunch, if I'm meeting a friend. But I'd only do that if I know I don't have to go back to work. Or I'd have a glass or two if I am out at some event I’ve organised.

Mind you, in the recent sunny weather, my husband and I threw an impromptu barbecue on a Monday night and had a few friends round. You can't really plan for these things. My wine o'clock is normally around 6.30pm. I won't normally open a bottle until then. However, Fridays are an exception. I tend to cook on a Friday evening, so might have a wee glass at about 5pm, but that wee glass could last me an hour.

I don't think there is anything wrong with drinking wine during the week, it's better than binge drinking at the weekend. When I was about 17 or 18, I remember my mum allowing me to have a wee drink in the house. She said she preferred me having a drink there, where she could keep an eye on me, than standing on some street corner, like plenty of others teenagers were doing.

I do enjoy my wine, I have to say, it's the perfect accompaniment to a nice meal and it's sociable too.

My favourite wine is Faustino 1. I prefer red when I’m eating, though I do like Pinot Grigio as well. For some reason, I prefer white wine in the summer, when it's nice and chilled.

We always have a few bottles of wine at home and beers in the fridge, just in case friends drop by. And I must admit, I do look forward to putting my feet up at the end of the day and having a glass of wine. But I'm definitely not dependant on it. I've been known to go off it a few times a year, say when I’m detoxing in January or in November, before the mad Christmas party season. Every so often I go through little health kicks when I don't drink at all.

I don't think people should be made feel guilty about drinking a few glasses of wine during the week. It's one of life's little luxuries. As long as you keep it under control.”

Alcohol consumed over a recent week

Thursday – alcohol free.

Friday – out with the girls – one and a half bottles of wine.

Saturday – out at Patrick Kielty gig – couple of glasses of wine and a few Coronas.

Sunday – barbecue with friends – three glasses of wine.

Monday/Tuesday – alcohol free. Wednesday – one glass of wine.

‘The hangovers aren’t worth it’

Kaz Lynas (28) is a PR manager. She is single and lives in Belfast. She says:

‘I first started drinking wine when the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary came out and it seemed that drinking Chardonnay was the sophisticated thing to do. It was the tipple of choice for many women back then because of the film. When I went to university in Dublin I moved onto red wine. I remember thinking it quite posh to go into a supermarket and buy a litre of red wine for €5.

Since then, I've become more interested in good wine. I'm certainly no expert and I’m not about to start up my own vineyard just yet, but I like a really nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. I read up about wine and I'm definitely well past that age now when I would go shopping for three bottles at a bargain price of £10.

If I'm going to buy wine to have at home, I want it to be a decent bottle. I love having the girlies around for a good gossip and you can't put the world to rights without a few glasses of vino.

In saying that, I do drink less mid-week than I used to, though I do still enjoy a wee glass or two during the week. Sometimes I meet up with friends after work for a few glasses and I like putting my feet up on a Thursday night to watch Keith Lemon's Celebrity Juice with a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. And of course, at the weekend, I have a wee drink too, but I tend to be out socialising more then. I have to admit, I did worry that people might view it badly if I was seen to be having a drink during the week. But why should that be the case?

I have family in France and they tend to have wine with lunch and dinner. It's just part of their lifestyle and I don't think people should be viewed as ‘alkies' just because they like to have a glass with their meal every day. That's such a shame, especially if you really appreciate good wine. As long as it's not taken to the extremes, I don't think it's a problem. It's certainly not for me.

To be honest, I can just about handle a few glasses these days. Sometimes, even if I have just one glass of wine and have to get up for work the next day, I can have a terrible headache. The hangovers aren't worth it any more.

Wine to many people is a hobby. But I’ve taken up a few new ones, because I realise there are more important things than drinking wine!

I do Chairlesque classes now, which is like Burlesque with chairs involved, and do Kettlebell training twice a week too. I also teach singing. But I really don't think there is anything wrong with a mid-week tipple.

It seems to be the norm now — among my friends it certainly is. The funny thing is, I started with Chardonnay, but I couldn't look at it now. I don't like the taste of it at all. I'm happy to stick to my Sauvignon Blanc.”

Alcohol consumed over a recent week

Thursday – two glasses of wine. Friday – 4/5 glasses of wine. Saturday – 4/5 glasses of wine (two vodkas).

Sunday/Monday/Tuesday – alcohol free.

Wednesday – glass of wine to celebrate sister's engagement.

‘A glass is like a little reward’

Kelly Morris (37) is a photographer and single mum from Belfast. She says:

‘I grew up in Pittsburgh, US, where my parents had a healthy, almost European attitude, to alcohol. Every evening, dad would put his feet up with the newspaper and have a glass of wine, while mum cooked the dinner, having a glass herself.

When I moved to Northern Ireland I noticed that there was a tendency to maybe not drink during the week as much, but instead save it up for a binge at the weekend. That’s not so much the case among my own friends, though. I've noticed a growing trend to indulge in a tipple during the week and I think that's fine. Everything in moderation seems a wiser and healthier attitude to me.

After a busy day, when I have my son Cormac (5) bathed and in his PJs, I pour myself a glass of wine while cooking the dinner.

I love to cook, it's a way to unwind and I see wine as the perfect complement to food.

I prefer red wine, a good Burgundy, but sometimes I'll drink white, it all depends what mood I'm in. I probably have a couple of glasses of wine four or five times a week. For me, it's a lovely, indulgent way to relax. You see it everywhere on the Continent, in Spain, France, Italy. People get together and have wine with their meals and they don't have drink problems. I think it's ironic that some people would question the fact that I have a few glasses of wine during the week and maybe consider that a problem, whereas binge drinking is considered almost a normal way of life.

For me, cooking is a real pleasure and sometimes in the evenings, my friend and neighbour Gemma will pop in for dinner and we'll have a few glasses of wine. The thing is, if I go for a week or two without having a glass, when I do get the chance to go out at the weekend, when Cormac's with his dad, then I tend to go a bit mad. I suffer then with a hangover, that sometimes lasts for two days. Wine can be lethal, but when drunk properly with food, it's lovely.

I don't think it's wrong to have a glass of wine in Cormac's company. I don't want it to be a taboo subject. If you try to hide things from children, it becomes a secret and that's not good.

My parents always had a glass of wine in front of us. For me, a glass or two of wine at the end of the day is a little reward.

If you feel the need for it every day, then yes, that's a problem, but if it's just part and parcel of your life, a normal thing that you enjoy, then I think that's fine.

It was my birthday last week and in the run-up I didn't really drink. I know I'm completely contradicting myself here, but on the night of my birthday, I reverted to the Irish way of drinking and went buck mad! I drank too much and my immune system got run down. I then picked up a bug. As a result, I haven't really felt like drinking. But that's certainly not a normal week for me!”

Alcohol consumed over a recent week

Thursday – birthday night – five glasses of wine, two beers |and a shot of Sambuca.

Friday – took ill. No alcohol until Tuesday – glass of wine. Wednesday – two glasses of wine.

and the one who’s given it up...

‘I’d rather go climbing mountains now’

Jenny Curran (25) is a freelance writer and model from Portadown. She says:

‘I was always a bit of a party girl. Since I had my first drink at the age of 18 I don't think I ever went for more than a week without having a drink. I love vodka and cranberry but I also drank Rosé wine. I don't really know what got me onto the Rosé. But I would have had a few drinks during the week and again at the weekend. To me it was the norm. I was out socialising quite a lot and if I was meeting the girls during the week, I'd always have a few drinks. It's not that I craved it or anything, it's just that I enjoyed going out and having a wee glass or two. I never really drank in the house.

Then last January I got into body-building as an experiment really. I wanted to see if I could transform a regular body. My personal trainer was very strict. He's totally health conscious, he eats well, exercises a lot and doesn't really drink. He told me I was to cut out alcohol and I took it seriously. Though I found it really hard to do.

It was particularly difficult when I was surrounded by people having a wee drink and they were saying things like ‘come on you big loser, have just one glass'. I did feel under real pressure, especially when I had to go to a wedding. But I stuck with it for four months while I was training.

Now I'm not bothered at all about drinking wine. I've been going out with my personal trainer, Tony O'Neill, since last May and that certainly helps. We socialise together and because he's not a drinker, I don't feel as tempted to have any now. Sometimes I'll have a wee glass or two of wine, maybe every six weeks. But I don't really miss it at all. In fact, I feel so much healthier, really invigorated. I don't wake up with a hangover and have no embarrassing tales from the night before.

I know people laugh when I say this, but Tony and I would much rather do things like go climbing mountains now.

I used to love my wee tipple and I never imagined I'd hear myself saying something like that. But Tony is so health orientated, that, by proxy, I am too.”

When drinking puts your health at risk

What is the recommended amount for women to drink a week? Medical evidence suggests that women put their health at increased risk if they drink more than 14 units of alcohol in one week. However, The Public Healthy Agency tends to use daily guidelines because how much you drink in one session has an impact on your health. So a woman who drinks 14 units in one week, but spreads this out over five days/evenings is putting her health at less risk than a woman who drinks all 14 units in one night. That’s because binge drinking carries a range of health risks.

Examples of units:

  • Can of extra strong lager |– 4.5 units
  • Bottle of lager – 1.5 units
  • Small pub bottle of wine – 2.25 units
  • Pub measure of spirits – 1.5 units
  • Alcopop/ready mixed drink – 1.5 units
  • Pint of stout – 2.5 units
  • Pint of cider – 3 units

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