Women use alcohol for 'transformation and time out'

12 January 2015

GCU research finds women use alcohol for 'time out'

GCU research finds women use alcohol for 'time out'

Women in their thirties and forties are using alcohol as a means of relaxation and distraction from the demands of paid work, domestic chores and meeting the needs of others, new research has found.

In research funded by the Medical Research Council led by Dr Carol Emslie of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), researchers spoke to groups of friends in Glasgow aged 30 to 50 about their drinking habits. They found that women's drinking in early midlife was often viewed as a way of achieving rapid ‘time out’ from responsibilities at this stage of life, such as work and parenthood.

Some women in the study felt that drinking helped them assert their identity beyond their everyday roles and responsibilities. Women with partners discussed how drinking wine together at home in the evening allowed them to focus on each other, rather than work, children or chores. Mothers of young children described the ‘transformative’ effects of an occasional night out with friends which allowed them to feel that they had temporarily recaptured a younger, more carefree stage of life. Some felt a night out drinking could act as a ‘release valve’ for the pressures of everyday life.  

Mothers of older children discussed how they had stopped, or reduced, their drinking when their children were young but how they were now able to drink as their children became more independent. However, women emphasised that they organised their drinking around childcare and paid employment responsibilities.

Despite the increase in drinking by women in middle-age, little alcohol research has focused on this group. Office for National Statistics figures suggest that similar proportions of women aged 16 to 24 years, 25 to 44 years and 45 to 64 years drink more than the recommended daily guidelines of 3 units for women (30%, 29% and 30% respectively). 

The study, ‘Transformation and time-out: the role of alcohol in identity construction among Scottish women in early midlife’ was conducted by Dr Carol Emslie, now at GCU, alongside Professor Kate Hunt at the MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, and Professor Antonia Lyons at Massey University in New Zealand. It is published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Dr Emslie, Leader of the Substance Use and Misuse Research Group in Glasgow Caledonian University’s Institute for Applied Health Research, said: “Our research shows that women in midlife view drinking as a quick and convenient way to achieve ‘time out’ from work and domestic responsibilities. Given women’s busy lives at this life-stage, it is not surprising that alcohol is seen as an obvious way to relax and connect with others.

“However, while acknowledging the pleasures of drinking with partners and friends, it is important that we identify other ways in which women achieve ‘time out’ without alcohol, such as exercising or socialising without drinking”.

Professor Hunt added:“These findings reflect how alcohol advertising and other images of drinking have so effectively linked drinking with reward and relaxation. While recognising that many people enjoy relaxing with a drink, we need to be wary that images portrayed in the media and entertainment industry do not make alcohol seem essential to relaxation and enjoyment in today’s culture for women in midlife, or indeed for people at any stage of life.”