It's dry July but for some women wine o'clock is a daily addiction. Annemarie Quill meets four brave women who sought help for their dependency and are now helping others.
"Wine o'clock was when the morning alarm went off. I would have a mug of red wine for breakfast and another while making the kids' school lunches. I walked them to the school bus stop and on the way back I would buy another cask of red wine. Bottles were too small."
Blonde, pretty 42-year-old mother-of-two Lily* blends in with the lunch crowd in a central Tauranga cafe, clinging to her flat white as she recounts how she went from sociable school mum with the perfect house ("woe betide anyone who messed up my cushions") who lunched with the girls in a restaurant and had Friday afternoon wines with the PTA mums, to chronic alcoholic who collapsed on her knees at the entrance to Tauranga's alcohol addiction clinic, the Hanmer Clinic - thin, dirty, hair falling out, with chipped nails, so drunk she was unable to write her name, and the only words she could utter through cracked lips were "help me".
Her children were both under 10. "I thought I hid it. Now teenagers, they tell me I wasn't looking after them well then. I got confused with times. Tried to put them to bed in the afternoon. Gave them frozen pies for dinner. Forgot to pick them up. I got in the car to drive somewhere. They wouldn't get in with me. They knew I was drunk."
In an affluent, leafy suburb of Tauranga, 54-year-old Liz* fetches bottled water and glasses. Cracking jokes, she is a natural hostess.
From a photo on the wall beams a younger glamorous Liz, with four beautiful children. Back then, she and her husband had their own business in the service industry.
Part of the Tauranga social scene, known for entertaining, everyone loved going round to Liz's house.
When guests left, she would fall down "sozzled", having preloaded on bottles of red wine that she would secretly get delivered to the door by the caseload from a wine club.
There are no more parties in this house. Just photos on the wall, a bird in a cage, and a cross with the serenity prayer.
Liz lives alone, after leaving her children with her husband several years ago.
The vivacious party girl who loved wine had morphed into a suicidal addict.
She was diagnosed with a chronic illness and, taking heavy medication but still knocking back bottles of wine daily, her husband dropped her off to an expensive rehab centre in Auckland.
He told all her friends she was an alcoholic.
She filed for divorce.
"After that my life became about losing people. People stopped coming round. I couldn't work. I was booted off an organisation I used to volunteer for. I left the family home - leaving the kids too."
I couldn't wait until the children had gone to bed to get into the red wine - I would drink three bottles until the early hours.
With a high-profile career and solo mum to three children, Saturday mornings are hectic for Bay businesswoman Glenys*.
One of her daughters is baking while Glenys takes time for a coffee.
It is hard to believe this poised, intelligent woman, with glowing skin and bright eyes, used to drink vodka and three bottles of wine a day.
"I had a good career. I loved my children. I looked like a perfectly functioning adult - people admired me - the solo mum, keeping the family together. Behind the curtain I was imploding. From drinking wine socially with the girls, I started drinking alone at lunchtime. I kept vodka in the freezer - the fastest delivery known to man - to get a buzz on. I couldn't wait until the children had gone to bed to get into the red wine - I would drink three bottles until the early hours."
Spending more and more on alcohol, Glenys used her house as security.
"I was depleting my resources. I developed health problems - high cholesterol and blood pressure and anxiety attacks. I isolated myself so I could drink more. I felt lost. I was a storm waiting to happen."
That storm came in the form of a police officer who stopped her driving home one night ("I was driving too slowly.")
She had been drinking mojitos in town - after preloading on wine.
"He looked at my restaurant receipt and he looked at me. I was way over. Very drunk. Still half drunk, I slumped in a cell, mortified. My veneer had fallen off. I might as well have had 'loser' tattooed all over my face."
Part of her sentence was alcohol education.
"I went to AA. I thought they were loony. 'This is not for me - it's for people who drink liquor out of bags. I drank wine. I am a mum. I owned my own house'.
"I had to do community service. Picking up trash on the road. I lost friends...
"I thought about taking 'the easy way out', but I could not reconcile that it would be a legacy I left my children - that their mother had left them alone in the world."
Her youngest child was then 9 - the same age Glenys was when her own mother had left her alone in small-town New Zealand, to be brought up by her alcoholic father.
For Susan* "wine o'clock" with the girls was a daily 4pm ritual.
When the children came home from school the bottles came out.
Living in the rural Bay, friends would pop in for daily wine.
Susan said her first marriage and some friendships ended due to her drinking.
"I would always have arguments with a bellyful of wine in me."
After one night of heavy drinking, Susan said she started to feel ashamed as she heard herself slurring.
She woke up as she did every night, in the early hours, sweaty and anxious with a racing heart.
The next morning, hungover, trying to work the hose in the garden, she heard herself starting an argument with her new partner.
"I thought, that's it, I am giving up drink," and told this to her friend who stopped in later that day.
"She said 'oh don't be silly, have a wine and you will feel better' and she poured me a big bucket."
Lily, Liz, Glenys, Susan.
All mothers, all businesswomen, all high functioning, all wine lovers - and all alcoholics.
They are not alone.
The number of women being treated for alcohol addiction in the Bay is on the rise, according to figures revealed to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.
On the outskirts of Greerton, a huge sign advertising specials on spirits almost obscures the entrance to Hanmer Clinic, Tauranga's publicly funded outpatient drug and alcohol-addiction service.
In Hanmer's carpark there is another sign pointing to AA - not Alcoholics Anonymous but the Automobile Association services in the garage next door.
"Yes, we are next door to Super Liquor and an AA garage. But I always say to clients, it grants anonymity as people could be going anywhere," laughs Hanmer's clinic director David Benton.
If you were hoping for a Californian-style rehab with golf, yoga and a private chef, you would be in the wrong place.
A ladder behind reception signals half-finished repairs.
The floor is slightly worn and the chairs in the waiting room look like they have carried heavy loads.
Within minutes of meeting Benton, it is easy to understand why former clients such as Lily speak of him in revered tones, "David Benton saved my life".
With a head full of grey curls and academic knowledge, he is avuncular, unassuming and exudes measured empathy.
A recognised expert in his field, Benton has been involved in drug and alcohol addiction for 25 years.
Hanmer has been open since 1999.
Clients, particularly women, are increasing.
Most of Hanmer's clients - 85 per cent - are self-referred.
The clinic doesn't advertise.
Benton says it is a word-of-mouth thing in Tauranga.
Female clients are exceeding male clients - current clients comprise 105 female and 80 male, while the total in the last three years was 930 males to 735 females.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board clinical director, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Sue Mackersey says that with regard to the DHB's own addictions service, alcohol is the main type of referral and the numbers of referrals for alcohol issues have increased greatly over the past three years.
"The number of male referrals remains higher than that for females but the increase in presentations (in percentage terms) has been sharper in women than men over that time."
Figures obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend from the Ministry of Health showed that across New Zealand, 46,889 people accessed alcohol and other drug treatment services in the year 2014/15, slightly up from the previous year of 45,442.
In the year 2014/15 in the Bay of Plenty, 3215 people (1.47 per cent of the Bay population) accessed alcohol and other drug-treatment services.
Analysed by gender over a three-year period in the Bay of Plenty DHB, the number of females who accessed addiction services increased to 38 per cent in the year 2014/2015 compared with 35 per cent in 2012/2013.
Conversely, the number of Bay men treated reduced to 62 per cent in the last year from 65 per cent in 2012.
Nationally, the number of females treated also increased over a three-year period to 35 per cent from 33 per cent, with men declining to 65 per cent from 67 per cent in the same period.
There may be more people being treated for alcohol addiction than these figures reveal. Bay of Plenty DHB's Sue Mackersey explains that it is difficult to provide full Bay of Plenty-wide figures for alcohol treatment and addiction as most of the contracts in the Bay of Plenty are held by NGO (non-governmental organisations) providers, such as Hanmer Clinic.
David Benton agrees that it is difficult to quantify the number of people who actually have alcohol addiction in the Bay of Plenty, as many might not seek treatment in a clinic or at their GP, some may go to Alcoholics Anonymous where there is no register, and others may not seek treatment at all.
Benton says while there has always been a cross-section of professional women at the clinic, he has seen an increasing number of women, 30s and up, whose wine-drinking in particular has spiralled out of control.
Addiction is a young person's disorder. You catch it when you are young...
"We have always seen professional women who are carrying a household. They tend to be around about mid to late 30s upwards ... a lot of those people started drinking between the ages of 14 to 20. Addiction is a young person's disorder. You catch it when you are young and the typical progression for alcohol is 20 to 25 years before they finally present through our doors, so our catchment is 35-up. Because drinking wine is socially acceptable, it takes longer for people to acknowledge they have a problem."
Benton thinks some women are drinking more as they juggle high-flying careers with children and says the clinic has seen a fair share of female professionals including doctors, lawyers, businesswomen and women with a high public profile in Tauranga.
"The culture around 'wine o'clock' encourages a heavy drinking culture - it is the modern-day female equivalent of the six o'clock swill. Wine is the drink of choice for female clients of a certain social set."
Bay GP Tony Farrell, who specialises in alcohol addiction, says more professional women are seeking GPs' help, often concerned about wine drinking.
"They are seeking help due to the increasing prominence of their drinking in their lives. They are starting to get health or relationship problems, or legal problems such as DIC charges. Some are presenting as they have tried to stop but can't - a cardinal symptom of addiction."
Farrell agrees with Benton that the wine o'clock culture has a darker side.
"Women have been seduced by the alcohol industry to see wine as part of a daily sophisticated way of life. You see professional women in dramas on television drinking heavily - that is no accident. The media input into drinking is massive and is increasing drinking."
Recently labelled "the dark side of equality" by international economist Mark Pearson, hazardous and heavy episodic drinking - or binge drinking - is on the rise among women internationally, according to a report published in May by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).
Hazardous drinking included women in the 45 to 64 age group, with much drinking done at home, "hidden from public view", with wine the drink most commonly consumed.
Drinking behaviours of women were converging on those of men, which the report's authors said could be due to women's careers involving more responsibility, higher levels of stress, and more opportunity to go out drinking - "more years spent in education, improved labour-market prospects, increased opportunities for socialisation, delayed pregnancies and family ties, are all part of women's changing lifestyles, in which alcohol drinking, sometimes including heavy drinking, has easily found a place".
The OECD report also showed that the number of children to have experienced alcohol at age 15 had increased greatly during the 2000s, more quickly among girls than boys.
A New Zealand survey on alcohol use published this year also showed that male and female drinking habits were converging - 84 per cent of male Kiwis over 15 consumed alcohol, compared with 76 per cent of females.
The survey said 71 per cent of female drinkers drank wine or sherry.
What is being done?
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says women's drinking is a "hot topic".
Writing in June's AlcoholNZ, a Health Promotion Agency publication, Coleman says there are concerns that women's drinking is increasing and that "a stronger intervention focus is needed on issues specific to women's drinking".
Every drink a woman has potentially increases the risk of cancer, says Otago University public-health expert Professor Jennie Connor.
"Any kind of heavy drinking increases risk. For many women that will be wine. Women tend to think it is harmless if they are not out raging up."
At last month's first New Zealand conference on alcohol and cancer, Connor said female drinkers were more likely to die of cancer related to alcohol than a car crash involving drinking.
Among women, cancer accounted for 44 per cent of all alcohol-related deaths, with alcohol-related traffic crashes being the next most common, making up 25 per cent of alcohol-related deaths among women.
Breast cancer is the lead cause of all alcohol-related death in women. One in seven of all breast-cancer deaths is related to drinking.
Health Minister Coleman says that "the right mix is needed of primary health care, community-based and residential addiction treatment services".
In Tauranga there are no residential addiction services, either public or private.
Liz, 54, thinks there are not enough funds for treating alcoholism.
"Even private rehabs are few and far between. I was lucky we had the money to pay - it can be up to $30,000, which is out of reach for most."
Lily said it took her a long time trying to access different types of help.
She eventually completed the Hanmer programme which helps women detox with the help of a medical herbalist, and assists them by intense group therapy, some of which is gender specific, as well as a two-year after-care programme.
David Benton says it would be nice to have more dedicated detox beds in the Bay "but you would struggle to come up with a business case for it ... we used to have access to Auckland detox beds, but now DHB funding is jealously guarded."
He is similarly pragmatic about the increase in clients.
"People say there is a need for us in other areas, but it is unlikely as we have only had a 0.89 per cent funding increase in the last four years. But if someone comes to us needing help, we will not turn them away."
Bay of Plenty DHB's Sue Mackersley said the DHB can provide access to out-of-town residential services.
"As more services are provided there are better options for women with alcohol problems to receive a range of appropriate services."
After various failed rehabs, Liz took her last drink five-and-a-half years ago on an aircraft.
As I swallowed, I imagined the look on my children's faces when they met me at the airport.
"I was upgraded first class flying back to Auckland, in my leather chair, and the hostess passed me a flute of champagne. She said 'cheers' and I took a huge swig. As I swallowed, I imagined the look on my children's faces when they met me at the airport. I threw the champagne in the air, to get rid of it quickly. The air hostess was back, and said, 'oh do you want another'. I said 'no'."
She has been saying "no" ever since and is now actively involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, along with Glenys.
AA has 22 weekly meetings in the Western Bay, including - due to demand - a women's meeting in the Mount where children are welcome.
"It was very hard work in AA but it was first time in my life I had connected with other people truthfully," says Glenys who, over her time in AA, has noticed "absolutely more women".
A new recovery method appealing to several Bay women with alcohol addiction is online forum Living Sober.
The site was started a year ago by blogger Lotta Dann, who had discovered a need for more online information about alcohol when writing her book Mrs D is Going Without.
Sober for almost four years, mother-of-three Dann, wife to television political journalist Corin Dann, describes herself as "a high-functioning, not a messy drunk", but who in her drinking days could easily put away a bottle of wine a night.
The site now has 2240 members and Dann says it is growing by about six members a week.
Dann says many of the members are female, and several are in the Bay.
Members post anonymously online.
There are countless stories of women worried about wine drinking.
Susan joined Living Sober a year ago and contributes most days. She found the anonymity of the online community preferable to face-to-face meetings in AA.
Sober now a year, there is no more wine o'clock with the girls.
"Some friends are a bit dark about why I don't drink wine with them any more but I tell them I feel good, so they can't argue with that."
Liz has been sober for five-and-a-half years. Her children have welcomed her back in their lives.
Glenys has been sober for six-and-a-half years.
She has a successful career in Tauranga and sponsors many women going through alcohol addiction.
Lily has been sober for seven years.
Her children are with her and are happy and thriving. She loves her job at a local company and is in a new relationship.
Liz says it is a privilege to share her story in the hope it will help a woman who wants to address her drinking.
"It is a shocking disease. If I hadn't got sober I would be dead."
Lily agrees, saying she has seen the worst alcohol can do to women: "I have buried people I met at AA."
She wants to share her story to let people know there is hope.
"I know lots of women struggling. Struggling to be perfect. Trying to be superwoman - working, raising a family. It's mainly mums, really intelligent people who, for some reason, just have too much going on and wine just drowns it out.
"Don't make your whole life about that next bottle of wine. Talk to someone. Once I couldn't imagine life without alcohol. Now I can't imagine life with it.
"Wine brought me to my knees, and I am still on my knees, saying thank you."
*Not their real names.
Where to get help
* Alcohol Drug Helpline 0800 787 797
* Alcoholics Anonymous 0800 229 6757
* LifeLine 0800 543 354 (24 hours)
* Living Sober support network www.livingsober.org.nz
http://livingwithoutalcohol.blogspot.co.nz (Lotta Dann's blog)
* Saturday July 11: Alcoholics Anonymous is holding a public meeting in the Bay at City
Church Tauranga, 252 Otumoetai Road, Tauranga 6.30pm to 8.30pm.
Everyone is welcome to attend. Phone: 027 340 9544
* Friday August 7: Lotta Dann is guest speaker at the 200 Club Legacy Lunch for Tauranga Breast Cancer Support at ASB Baypark. www.the200club.co.nz