Alcohol researchers in Australia have warned that all those cute “It’s wine o’clock!” Instagram memes your mum shares could be encouraging women to consume unhealthy levels of alcohol.
Anyone with a couple of mums on their Instagram feed or who got friended by that high school classmate who still lives at home and only just saw the Ain't Nobody Got Time For That video will have encountered their fair share of wine memes. Y'know, the swirly "It's wine o'clock!" graphics or the totes hilaire "i need a hug…e bottle of wine" pics, usually in lurid shades of pink and accompanied by a few praying hands and sassy nail emojis.
Aside from being another exasperating bastion of internet gender stereotyping (when's whiskey o'clock?), there are fears that such shareable, wine-referencing images could actually be encouraging women to binge drink.
According to Australian news site news.com.au, some experts in Australia have warned that when shared by women's magazines, beauty brands, or other social media accounts with large female followings, these memes may promote unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption among women.
Speaking to the website, alcohol researcher Dr Janice Withnall called the meme trend a "progression of promoting women's use of alcohol to fix a problem" and likened it to a "smoking cigarettes campaign where we've got to the point in advertising drinking, in whatever form, in social media, becomes dangerous. It will influence their behaviour."
Of course, food and drink advertisers have been marketing certain products to women for years and wine, with its associations as post-work stress reliever and "girlie catchup" tipple is a particular favourite of unimaginative copywriters. But Withnall worries about the damage that can be done when this image of the drink is perpetuated by strong female social media figures or "opinion leaders," as well as straight advertisers.
"Women need to understand that when they're irritable and they pick up a drink to stop that feeling, they're not learning how to deal with the feeling or with the underlying problem. It's the easy way to 'relax and reward,' which becomes a danger to their health," she added to news.com.au.
While alcohol abuse among both men and women is more complex than simply necking a bottle of Chardonnay after Facebook liking a pithy quote, female alcohol consumption is on the rise. Research published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia found that Australians are drinking more now than they did ten years ago. The average number of drinks for Aussie men in one day rose from about 4.7 in 2001 to five in 2012 but for women, the number increased from 2.8 to 3.4.
Australia isn't the only country to see a rise in female alcohol consumption. Earlier this year, the University of Washington's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation found that between 2007 and 2012, heavy drinking increased by 17.2 percent for Americans as a whole, due in large part to heavier drinking habits among women.
Some experts claim that a seemingly harmless "It's time to wine down!" meme may act as "justification" for excess alcohol consumption. Australian psychologist Georgia Foster told news.com.au: "People who are worried about their drinking want to hang out with people who have the same approach. They flock to other people who make light of it so they keep themselves protected. They'll look for that justification"
Few official studies have explored the extent to which social media influences our drinking habits but in January, US website addiction-treatment.com studied the Instagram profiles of a number of celebrities, including Kim Kardahsian, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus to chart how often they posted images of alcohol or drugs.
As of September 2014, rapper Devin the Dude came out top with 23.5 percent of his photos containing these substances, while Wiz Khalifa scored 15.7 percent and Birdman proved to have the most photos containing just beer and liquor at 8.3 percent.
The study may not have been highly scientific (for one thing, Khloe Kardashian was listed as an "actor/actress"), but as the addiction website pointed out: "If Birdman's having a beer, why shouldn't I pop open a can?"
Cracking open a Bud after viewing the Instagram uploads of an adult male who refers to himself as "Baby" seems kind of logical, but other research shows that social media may actually be causing us to drink less alcohol.
Last month, UK think tank Demos found that 19 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds don't drink and 66 percent claim alcohol is not important to their social lives. Researchers put this down to the fact that for Millennials, social media plays a key role in "decisions around alcohol." Indeed 29 percent of those questioned cited concerns about their "online reputations" as a reason for the decline in alcohol consumption. No one wants a drunk selfie to ruin their carefully cultivated #fitspo Instagram profile, after all.
The link between what we double tap on the 'gram and pour into our glasses may not be fully established, but perhaps those mum memes are more influential than they seem.