What is the Wine O’Clock Habit?
For many menopausal women and the world at large, the wine o’clock habit has become a light-hearted euphemism for drinking alcohol at the end of the day. In fact, when I researched this post, I came across a Pinterest board with hundreds of funny quotes celebrating wine o’clock.
These included quotes like “wine doesn’t have an o’clock, acceptable any time,” “is it wine o’clock yet?” and “tick-tock it’s wine o’clock, ding dong bring it on.”
We find these quotes funny and relatable because we often find ourselves at the end of a hard day desperately waiting for the clock to strike 5 so wine o’clock can begin.
But for some of us, wine o’clock has become a daily habit and involves far more than a glass. It’s easier to laugh than to take a hard look at our wine o’clock habit. But that’s exactly what we need to do for our health, especially in menopause.
By reading this blog, you agree not to use this blog as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or others, including but not limited to patients that you are treating. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having and before you stop drinking alcohol. Some people who stop drinking without proper medical supervision can suffer serious side effects, including death.
What is Menopause?
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), menopause occurs 12 months after a woman’s last period. Once that happens, post-menopause begins. A few years before menopause (perimenopause), women may begin experiencing a variety of symptoms, including irregular cycles, hot flashes, and other menopausal symptoms. The NIA explains that the menopausal transition can last from 7-14 years.
How Much Alcohol is Too Much in Menopause?
We wine drinkers, cling to studies that tout the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, especially the one about red wine being heart healthy. Yet moderation means different things to different people.
Some women may view anything less than a bottle of wine per night as moderation while others may think a couple bottles only on the weekend is within the moderation zone. So how much alcohol is too much during menopause?
First, let’s start with the facts. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, moderation means up to one drink per day for women.
One drink is equivalent to 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol). The Dietary Guidelines report that excessive drinking for women means 4 or more drinks in any one day (a bottle of wine) or 8 or more drinks per week. That’s sobering news! (pun intended)
What Are the Health Risks of the Wine O’Clock Habit in Menopausal Women?
Now that we’ve defined moderation, we can turn to the health impacts of both moderate and excessive drinking on menopausal women. And there is a big difference between the two.
So, let’s start with the good news. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) reports moderate drinkers have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes compared to nondrinkers. Moderate drinkers, especially wine drinkers, also have a lower risk of dementia than those who don’t drink, while those in midlife have stronger bones and are less likely to become obese.
But before you pop the cork on another bottle, here’s the flip side of the coin. Even moderate drinking in post-menopausal women has been shown to increase their risk of breast cancer, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). And excessive drinkers, which include those that drink as little as one drink per day during the week and two drinks per day on the weekends, can expect serious issues.
Women are particularly susceptible to alcohol’s harmful effects because we absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it when we drink. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies the following health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption:
- Liver disease
- Cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, colorectal
- High blood pressure
- Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety
- Dementia and memory problems
Healthline reports other risks include:
- Heart disease
- Obesity and abdominal fat
Does the Wine O’Clock Habit Impact Hormones?
A 1998 study reported in the medical journal, Alcohol Health and Research World, finds no strong evidence exists that alcohol impacts hormones in post-menopausal women. Neither alcohol’s beneficial impact on heart disease nor its correlation to increased breast cancer risk are associated with estrogen levels.
But, the NIAA points to a more recent 2002 study that indicates moderate alcohol consumption may be positively associated with estrogen levels. So, it appears the jury is still out on this point.
How Does the Wine O’Clock Habit Impact Menopausal Symptoms?
While alcohol’s impact on estrogen levels remains unclear, its many adverse side effects also are symptoms of menopause. That means excessive alcohol consumption can exacerbate those symptoms. Here’s how alcohol affects the following menopausal symptoms:
Mood Swings – According to NIAA, alcohol impacts our brain’s internal communication, which can cause changes in mood and behavior.
Lower Libido – Although moderate alcohol consumption can increase libido, excess consumption can dehydrate the vagina, making sex painful, according to Psychology Today.
- Hot Flashes – NAMS says no solid research establishes that alcohol consumption causes hot flashes in women. But some may experience hot flashes when they drink excessively. Additionally, there is a connection between sugar and hot flashes, which could explain why wine may trigger them.
- Racing Heart – Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at night can cause your heart to race in the morning, says Medical News Today.
- Headaches – Harvard Health notes alcohol consumption has long been associated with headaches and is a migraine trigger for about one-third of patients who have them.
- Trouble Sleeping – Psychology Today reports even moderate drinking at bedtime can interrupt your sleep, leading to more restless sleep and next-day fatigue.
How to Break the Wine O’Clock Habit
First, talk to your doctor before you stop drinking alcohol. If you are used to consuming alcohol excessively, suddenly stopping can be dangerous! Your doctor can explain your treatment options and ensure that you can stop drinking safely. If your goal is to moderate your drinking, consider reading my post, Break the Wine O’Clock Habit: Try These 6 Strategies.
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