Baby boomers and booze: Do we have a problem?October 9, 2017
One of life’s greatest pleasures—for me, anyway—is savoring a glass (or two) of nicely chilled, oaky chardonnay at the end of the workday. The mouth-feel, the slight buzz it imparts, the melting away of deadline stress, the ritual—it’s just an enjoyable way to switch gears.
I have to admit, however, that I sometimes wonder if I might enjoy my wine a bit too much. If my end-of-day routine is too, well, routine. If I really need those empty calories. If I’d sleep better without alcohol.
So a few nights a week, I forego the vino—just to prove to myself that I don’t have a drinking problem.
And drinking is a problem among us baby boomers—particularly women—according to some recent studies. Notably:
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism collected data on more than 65,000 men and women aged 60-plus who were current drinkers. Between 1997 and 2014, the number of current drinkers among men rose by 0.7% per year; among women, that number rose 1.6% per year—more than double the rate in men.
- Further, while both genders drank about the same average volume over time, binge drinking increased in boomer women by 3.7% per year. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one session for a man, and four or more for a woman.
- Alcohol is the most common form of substance abuse by older adults, with nearly 3 million Americans age 55 and older suffering from alcohol abuse. Some experts say this number will reach nearly 6 million by 2020.
- A 2009 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that among adults aged 75 to 85, approximately 27% of women and nearly half of men drank beyond the recommended guidelines for their age (these guidelines say no more than seven drinks per week and/or two drinks per one occasion for adults over 65).
So why are more of us older folks hitting the bottle more?
My first thought was that we’re self-medicating to cope with the terror disgust despair anxiety we feel in the wake of #45’s election. And I’m not wrong. In fact, an American Psychology Association study conducted after DJT was elected showed that 66% of adults—Democrats and Republicans—said the future of the nation was causing them significant stress. Doctors have even coined a term for the condition: President Trump Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While the APA says stress had been trending downward among American adults over the past 10 years, stress levels spiked in January 2017, when the orange one’s inauguration took place. I can only imagine where those levels are today.
A study entitled “Nervous Nation: An Inside Look at America’s Anxiety in the Age of Trump,” commissioned by an online healthcare site, found that more than a quarter of respondents said they’re engaging in negative behavior such as drinking or smoking more often, eating unhealthily, or arguing with loved ones more frequently due to their election-induced anxiety. Can you relate?
Another study points to retirement as a potential trigger for problem drinking among boomers. Respondents reported they drink to cheer themselves up, fight loneliness, relieve tension and/or combat boredom—all apparent risks of newfound leisure time. Does this mean I’d better postpone retirement to save my liver?
And even if you turn to a healthier pursuit like exercise to fill your time, it’s getting harder to escape alcohol’s lure, as a growing number of gyms offer post-workout adult beverages along with green smoothies.
According to an article in the Washington Post, “Social psychologists speak of a ‘third place’ as a location besides home and work where individuals feel a welcoming sense of comfort and community…fitness facilities, with visions of becoming a lucrative third place, are recognizing that alcohol is a strong adhesive for social bonding.” If you ever watched the sitcom Cheers, you get their point, right?
On the flip side, however, is a 2016 Business Insider survey that reported 61% percent of baby boomers would rather drink at home than at social events or in restaurants. The reason? New technology, like Netflix, makes it easier to enjoy yourself at home. Cost was also cited as a factor.
Regardless of where you imbibe, the fact is we metabolize alcohol differently as we get older—so even relatively small quantities of alcohol can have a negative impact on our functioning.
In other words, you may have had a hollow leg in your twenties—able to pound down multiple shots or an entire bottle of wine during happy hour—but you’ll likely be on your ass if you try that in your sixties or beyond. What’s more, too much booze can contribute to a host of health issues including high blood pressure, heart and liver damage, memory and cognitive issues, and an increased risk of falls and breast cancer in women.
Regarding the latter, a 2017 report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund says there’s strong evidence that drinking just one glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day increases premenopausal breast cancer risk by 5% and postmenopausal breast cancer risk by 9%.
Still other studies, however, suggest that moderate alcohol consumption—no more than two drinks with dinner—is unlikely to be hazardous to cognitive function and may even support healthy brain aging. That works for me, inspiring this haiku:
is good for my cognition—
that I’ll remember!
Plus, no less a moral authority than Pope Francis says that wine is a necessity. Last year, he was quoted as saying, “Water is needed to live, but wine expresses the abundance of the banquet and joy of the celebration,” adding, “Wine is necessary for the celebration.”
Hell, isn’t the end of the workday a reason to celebrate? Is the Pope Catholic?
What do you think? Do you worry about your adult-beverage consumption? Do you consider wine a necessity? What role does alcohol play in your life? Please share!
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