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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:

Moderate drinking
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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  • 34 thoughts on “Baby boomers and booze: Do we have a problem?

    1. Lynn says:

      This is a very interesting post, Roxanne. I hardly every drink alcohol but I watch just about everybody else consume it on a regular basis. Being the perpetually sober person does provide a different perspective on how people’s personalities/behavior/boundaries change once they have alcohol in their systems. As for the trump effect on our collective mental health, I’ve asked several doctors about it and they’ve confirmed that it’s a very real phenomenon. My solution is to hit the gym, the rink or the dance floor to eradicate that stress. I’ve noticed that a lot of people talk about politics as they’re socializing and drinking, but when I’m lifting, skating or dancing that doesn’t happen!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Your approach to stress management is certainly a healthy one, Lynn–and I can appreciate your perspective as a “perpetually sober person.” Thank you for your candid and thoughtful response!

    2. Marianne says:

      How timely. As a female retiree living alone in a beautiful village in Vermont, it had become all too easy this summer to sit on my deck in the evening with one plus glasses of wine. Although it was enjoyable, I found that it cut into other joys, like solid sleep, getting up and going to the gym the next day, diving into tasks that needed to be done, etc., etc. Giving up the vino seemed too harsh especially since I travel a lot and love to sample local harvests. I have found moderation by applying my new rule: Don’t drink alone. Wine tastes so much better with friends and the view from my deck improves in the sharing. Thanks for addressing this topic.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I like your strategy, Marianne! It makes a lot of sense, especially since isolation can be an issue as we get older. Thanks for your thoughtful response. And cheers!

    3. Victor Carr says:

      Around 1988, I stopped any serious drinking and switched to much more dangerous beverage, diet Pepsi. Lately, I’ve become more acutely aware of how much my fellow boomers drink when we go out for dinner together. Not that they drink to excess, but they do drink. I’m not a teetotaler by any means, but if I have two drinks a year it’s a lot. Although with Dorito in charge, I can fully understand why others might drink too much. Nuclear grapes are not what I want to consume. But I don’t care what others do, unless they’re driving, of course.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Ah, yes–the driving-under-the-influence issue. I didn’t even touch on that one, but it’s important. Thanks for commenting, Victor!

    4. Thought provoking really, as I’ve never been a huge drinker. I would go out to dinner maybe every couple weeks and have a margarita with friends, but it wasn’t until I relocated to the coast last December that I really found my love for wine–and I’ve never liked wine! Now I have a wine fridge, for Pete’s sake! I think it’s true that as we get older, we use alcohol to self medicate. It’s accessible, it’s easy, it tastes good…but having said that, I don’t think everyone develops a problem with it as long as they keep an awareness about it. I did finally scale back because alcoholism runs in my family and I’m fine without it, which sort of surprised me considering I was downing a bottle of wine every two days (two glasses each night is about what that comes out to, but still). While I’m glad to know I don’t have a real dependency on it, I do miss it some LOL!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Awareness is certainly vital…and I think it goes a long way in moderating our consumption. I applaud your self-control in scaling back–a wise move, given your genes. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Kristi.

    5. Amy Haible says:

      Love the grape too. Spirits are spiritual substitutes? Don’t know, but the first glass and a half are always the best. I do monitor what I drink but I think its better to imbibe and enjoy than imbibe and feel guilty about it. Add ice to your Chardonnay and it lasts longer, plus you get the added benefits of H2O.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Right there with you, Amy! And I do occasionally add an ice cube or two to my Chardonnay (my wine-purist friends are probably cringing if they’re reading this…). Thanks for adding to the conversation!

    6. Haralee says:

      Since I don’t drink I do witness the games people play with themselves controlling their drinking and the peer pressure of drinking in a group.In our grocery stores now there are wine bars. For $8.00 a glass you can sit on a stool in your grocery store and have a glass, watch some TV before you finish your grocery shopping and drive home! I wish I was making this up!!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Wow, Haralee! There really are fewer and fewer places where you CAN’T get a drink these days! I’ve been known to forget things on my grocery list when I’m stone-cold sober–I can’t imagine trying to shop with a buzz on.

    7. One fact we always miss when it comes to alcohol discussions, is that it causes cancer. My Mom was a regular social drinker and she had breast cancer by age 37:

      1. Roxanne says:

        It certainly does increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer (which I touched on in my post), and the more we drink, the greater the risk (alcohol causes blood estrogen levels to rise). It also been linked to oral, throat, esophageal, liver and colorectal cancers. I’m sorry about your mom–she was so young. Thank you for sharing.

    8. jessica says:

      I really do enjoy my glass of wine at the end of the day. I was a concerned about the calories so began getting cheaper wine and making a spritzer with some bubbly water and lemons from our tree. Gives me the same ritual, with less alcohol and fewer calories. Sometimes it’s just the going through the motions and holding the glass that lowers my stress level. 😉

      1. Roxanne says:

        The ritual really is a big part of it, isn’t it? Making a spritzer sounds like a great alternative to “high-test.” Thanks for joining the conversation, Jessica!

    9. I do look forward to my evening glass of wine, Roxanne. The other day I ran out and forgot to buy more when I went shopping so I used that as proof that I don’t have a problem. Seems like what I’ve read and observed is that someone obsessed with alcohol would never run out. At any rate, lots of thought provoking material here. Cheers!

      1. Roxanne says:

        About the only time I get a bit obsessive about making sure I have wine on hand is when I know there’s a blizzard coming. I’m not sure it’s as much of a necessity as having enough toilet paper, but it sure helps take the edge off cabin fever. Thanks for commenting, Molly. And cheers to you!

    10. I’m not a drinker, although I probably should be. I’m a smoker instead and I can tell you I’ve definitely indulged a lot more frequently since January!

      1. Roxanne says:

        I used to be a two- to three-pack-a-day smoker, so I understand the addiction. And I don’t have to tell you all the terrible effects smoking has on your health! I hope you’re able to find a good substitute for managing stress soon (since it’s unlikely that the orange-tinged source of our stress is going anyplace, at least for now!). Thank you for commenting, Rena.

    11. Lynne Spreen says:

      I developed acid reflux in late 50s. Now at 63, I really cannot drink much, and wine not at all. But its been good for my health, which is a nice silver lining.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I’ve got acid reflux, too, Lynne, which is another reason I abstain for at least a few nights a week (too many nights in a row with adult beverages and symptoms flare up). Better health is ALWAYS a nice silver lining! Thank you for joining the conversation.

    12. Jennifer says:

      Sometimes I can go months with having a glass of wine or something else each night and then I’ll go months of not having any at all. I will admit, though, that there’s been more wine this past year than the year previous.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I think a lot of us could say the same thing about this past year! Another good reason to do a news fast–less stress and reaching for the bottle! Thanks for commenting, Jennifer.

    13. I’ve cut back from having a glass of wine with dinner to maybe once or twice a week to lose weight. I live with someone who has a problem with alcohol so I try to avoid contributing unless I’m at an event and someone hands me a glass. I like it, though. Other than wine, I only drink water, coffee or tea.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Life is a series of trade-offs, right? Sounds like you’re making the right ones for you–without totally depriving yourself. Thanks for commenting!

    14. Ellen Dolgen says:

      I never drank much in college or when our kids were in the house. But, now I do love a martini. I do not drink every night, although I can see how that can easily become a habit. I can only have a martini – more than that I do not feel well.

      1. Roxanne says:

        That end-of-day drink sure can become a habit…and I can relate to the not feeling well if I have more than one, at most two glasses of wine (a far cry from when I was much younger and bounced out of bed, ready for work, after a night of partying). Built-in moderation, I guess? Thanks for commenting, Ellen!

    15. Jim LaPierre says:

      Truly excellent post – happy to share this widely!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thank you, Jim! I appreciate it.

    16. Sheena Sims says:

      Hi Roxanne!
      I do love my 2 glasses a night but with all the times I read we should only have one as women, it has made me take pause. Also my belly flares up with coffee and wine so I cut back. Still I do admit I wish it was all good for you. Coffee is so good. I cut from 4 cups a day to one. This after Fosamax gave me gastritis and I quit the drug after 5 months. And I cut the wine to one most days. I take Coumadin so I have to keep it as even each day as possible. Weekends I go back to 2. I do enjoy it. Hugs Sheena

      1. Roxanne says:

        There’s a lot to juggle as we get older, isn’t there? It’s especially frustrating when something prescribed for our health makes us sicker. Like you, I wish it were all good for us (especially the wine!). Thank you for commenting, Sheena.

    17. Emmie Eaton says:

      Very informative post and comments. I did not know that alcohol can cause breast cancer in women. This is quite alarming. Thank you for sharing all this.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thank you, Emmie, for joining the conversation!

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