Background: In the context of global declines in alcohol consumption, studies have recently shown that middle-aged women's alcohol use has increased in the past decade. Limited research has focused on this demographic group. We aimed to understand the perspectives of women aged 40–65 years on the role of alcohol in their lives and their motivations for consuming alcohol. We used social practice theory to identify distinctive assemblages of meanings, materials, competences and temporalities relating to alcohol use.
Methods: We used qualitative methods incorporating Human Centred-Design principles into activity-based workshops. We conducted ten 3-hour workshops with a total of 39 women aged 40–65 years. We coded the transcribed data using the three original components of social practice theory – meanings, materials, competences as well as the fourth component of temporality.
Results: Women described their alcohol use as nuanced, with different meanings across contexts and settings. ‘Wine o'clock’ was the term used by many women to describe the practice of consuming wine as soon as they finished their day's duties. Women appeared conscious of representing their drinking as rational, measured and safe, particularly when discussing weekday use, and drinking alone. Women described it as an act of relaxation, and rationalised it as earned. Alcohol consumption on weekends was strongly tied to social connection. Alcohol was explicitly described as the means to see people socially and was also implicitly present in social gatherings such as lunches, barbecues and dinners on weekends. Although women rejected the notion of experiencing social pressures to consume alcohol, they also described needing excuses for not consuming alcohol, such as partaking in temporary abstinence periods such as Dry July.
Conclusions: Our study describes how midlife women use alcohol to demarcate between duty and pleasure and for social connection. Prevention efforts which focus on social connection, relaxation and changing the discourse on alcohol's role in women's social lives may be beneficial for reducing women's alcohol consumption.