HEALTH / Jun ‘2018
Wine Mums, Glass Half Full or Bottle Almost Empty?
Do you ever leave just a sliver of wine in the bottle you’ve just drunk to yourself before you and your lopsided grin shuffle off to bed? Just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’d drunk the whole thing, again? Or is that just me?
As it happens Morning Me just rolls her eyes at Wino Mum’s clumsy veil of deception, knowing full well that she drinks too much and too often and if Wino Mum is honest with herself, she knows it too.
The thing is, until recently I didn’t think it was much of a problem. My life is far from unravelling and most people I know wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off a bottle to themselves and let’s face it, medicating the stresses of work/family life and any other gremlins lurking in the depths of your soul is essentially, a National Pastime.
There’s just been one thing not buying it though, a worried little voice that wakes in my head at two am and cries “This isn’t fun”.
As the National Healthy Drinking Guidelines begin to penetrate and I begin to contemplate the health risks of my habit, I discover that a bottle of wine is between eight and nine standard drinks instead of what I believed to be four and decide it’s time to rein in it.
Depending on which study you happen upon, Australian drinking trends have been cast in varied shades leaving us wondering do we have a problem or don’t we? Imagine an easy Sunday afternoon, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees of a beer garden as children play and mothers’ laughter tinkle against glasses of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and the situation seems bright, if we are to consider a recent study released in August 2017 by DrinkWise revealing Australians are drinking more responsibly than they did 10 years ago.
According to DrinkWise, an independent charity funded by the alcohol industry, our cultural attitude toward drinking practices is maturing and evolving. While their research tells us the number of Australians drinking to excess is decreasing and Moderate Drinkers, Abstainers and mercifully, Adolescents delaying their first drink are rising, it also details why we drink.
DrinkWise report Younger Families with children under 13 years are drinking smaller amounts than in 2007, using alcohol to relax, unwind and cope with the pressures of parenthood. (Taking an elementary guess I shall confidently deduce that Sherlock was not called upon to tease out this motive.)
Older Families, with children above 13 years are said to be rediscovering their identity and freedom as the responsibility of parenthood tapers. For those drinking at risky levels, they are returning to pre-parenthood drinking habits, whatever that means, if they’re referring to me then I’m stage diving off a Santorini Bar and letting my alarm clock bleep away for two hours before waking up in a haze of ouzo with my sneakers still on. Shikes, that’s not such good news.
“Up until recently I was drinking approximately four times a week,” she says, “mid-week, I’d drink a few glasses of wine at night and on weekends, if there was a social function, I’d drink one or two bottles of wine.”
This carefully optimistic data, however, is supported in premise, by other research such as the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which shows a reduction in alcohol consumption except, notably, for a rise in women between the ages of 50 – 59 but we’ve all got an Aunty Joy, so no surprises there.
The survey does acknowledge, however, that the consumption of alcohol is widespread in Australia and entwined in many social and cultural activities which poses the question, is the decline meaningful enough to claim we’re half French or are we just a goon pillow away from half cut?
Leah, a 33 year old working mother of two recently decided to moderate her drinking habits after her husband asked her to cut down. “Up until recently I was drinking approximately four times a week,” she says, “mid-week, I’d drink a few glasses of wine at night and on weekends, if there was a social function, I’d drink one or two bottles of wine. A special occasion would call for cocktails, champagne and perhaps even shots if I was trying to be really fun.”
After three years of sobriety while pregnant and breastfeeding Leah began to have an occasional glass of wine but began to drink more heavily after moving to a street populated with mostly stay at home mums.
“After each Groundhog Day we’d meet out the front of our houses while the kids played, waiting for our husbands to come home from work,” she says. “It was very Stepford Wives. We’d done our chores, tended to the children and finally showered so we could meet up on the lawn and wind down over a glass of wine. It all felt quite civilised until it got to the point that dinner was being made later with the drinking starting earlier.”
Friday after work drinks is an ingrained ritual embedded within our cultural landscape, yet in the strained world of parenthood where working hours blur like an indiscriminate crayon smear on a cream suede couch, a long week can easily be traded for a long day and before you can shout “Get your bottom out of your brother’s face!” There’s seems a legitimate reason for Wine O’clock, even though it’s only Monday.
Sally, 44 and mother to four, whose three glasses of wine each night can easily escalate as she toys with the “once the bottle is open scenario” admits that “Wine time” can easily get out of hand, “I definitely use alcohol to wind down after a day with the kids. I have a few habits that I need to address this year,” she confesses.
It is easier to drink, an immediate hit to your reward centre, when your life feels everything but your own, but is it really helping? Is it sustainable?
A study released in June 2017 by The Centre for Alcohol and Policy Research, found that although there had been a reduction in parent drinking from 2001, parents in 2013 were less likely to be abstainers than non-parents. And, let’s face it, it’s easier to knock back a glass of red and watch Married at First Sight (my personal research findings reveal reality TV is completely shit sober) than it is to make a yoga class, leaving your husband to “put the kids to bed” and “do the dishes”.
It is easier to drink, an immediate hit to your reward centre, when your life feels everything but your own, but is it really helping? Is it sustainable? And, what are the long term ramifications to physical and mental wellbeing? We all have a pretty good idea of the answers but they can be scary to contemplate.
Hannah, a 43 year old mother of one says, “I drink two glasses of red wine every night after my daughter is in bed. I definitely associate wine with winding down and having some “me” time. That said, I do have concerns about the health implications of habitual drinking. If I’m honest, it’s something I would like to change but find difficult to do.”
As the sun begins to seep on the Sunday session, deepening the shade over the beer garden and the kids start to whine while couples bicker over who was meant to drive, we may take a more sober view of an in-depth seven year study investigating alcohol dependence in Australian women aged between 35 to 59.
Conducted by Dr Janice Withnall, from the University of Western Sydney, the study, Researching with Women in Recovery, identified 16 per cent of the group were alcohol dependent and the healthcare required to meet their needs, was inadequate. The study highlighted a lack of acknowledgement of Alcohol Use Disorders within the demographic who often suffered from misdiagnosis or, “preferable diagnosis”, having symptoms treated instead for PMT, anxiety, depression, PTSD or menopause related.
“I thought drinking gave me a sense of wellbeing, eased the stress but it actually increases my guilt and anxiety. Motherhood and married life made me feel like I’d lost myself and drinking seemed to bring me closer to my old self but I’d gotten to the point where I just felt lost.”
Leah, who now makes a point not to drink through the week says, “I thought drinking gave me a sense of wellbeing, eased the stress but it actually increases my guilt and anxiety. Motherhood and married life made me feel like I’d lost myself and drinking seemed to bring me closer to my old self but I’d gotten to the point where I just felt lost.”
If you, or someone you know have concerns about alcohol misuse, numbers to call are Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) within your state or territory (numbers differ), Alcoholics Anonymous Helpline (AA) 1300 222 222, Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 or contact your local GP.
Names have been changed in this story for the sake of privacy.
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