Are You Drinking More Alcohol These Days?
A June 2020 post in the Alden Blog shared information to help us maintain a healthy weight and to eat well as we practice social distancing. Now, we focus on another challenge many people are facing these days: increased alcohol consumption.
According to Kaiser Health News, liquor sales soared by 55% nationally in May as stay at home orders were issued, and alcohol sales continue to be strong. You’ve probably heard jokes about “quarantinis.” People are holding online “virtual happy hours,” with the other people at a distance, but the libations right at hand. And rather than social drinking, many are taking part in what we might call “social distance drinking,” filling their fridge with six packs in place of downing a pint with friends at one of our area’s fabled neighborhood bars.
Doctors caution that many people have moved from moderate drinking to a level classified as heavy drinking—more than 14 drinks per week for men, or 7 per week for women. They predict that many will have trouble recalibrating their intake downward when the country returns to normalcy.
Older adults, especially, should think hard about their drinking. There are good reasons to avoid the “quarantini” temptation:
- The safe amount of alcohol for older adults may be less … or none. With age, our bodies don’t process alcohol as efficiently. We feel the effects sooner, and longer.
- Many of the medications seniors take can be dangerous and even deadly when combined with alcohol. These include drugs that treat pain, allergies, sleep problems, anxiety and other common health conditions.
- Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and damage the brain, heart, bones, digestive system and hearing.
- Drinking even a small amount of alcohol raises our risk of falls and car crashes.
Why have we upped our alcohol intake?
Many people, including seniors, are turning to alcohol in response to the times. If you’re drinking more than you should, try to identify your motivation, and consider other ways of meeting those needs:
We have a “nightcap” to help us sleep. It’s true that alcohol makes us drowsy. But alcohol-aided sleep isn’t of good quality. Under the influence, we fail to move through the stages of sleep that provide a good night’s rest and protect our brains. Try soft music, the classic warm milk, or relaxation techniques instead.
We self-medicate with alcohol to control anxiety. Yes, there is a lot to worry about right now, and alcohol can suppress the fretting. But our concerns always bounce back—often in the middle of the night, amplified all the more. Instead, focus on other things that you find relaxing. Exercise. Talk to a friend. If anxiety persists, report it to your healthcare provider.
It’s something to do and it’s a treat. Some people these days are drinking out of sheer boredom. They might settle in, put on some music, and concoct an elaborate cocktail … or two, or three. If you enjoy the ritual, switch to mocktails. All the garnishes and mixers can go just as well with fruit juices and other non-alcoholic beverages.
It’s become part of our routine. Even if we’re still working, a lot of our fun after-hours activities are unavailable right now. If we’re retired, we might feel this even more acutely. If you’ve substituted a couple of beers for your gym workout or bridge club meeting, try some other restful pursuits instead. Check out computer games or interactive programs that occupy your mind and calm you down.
All the suggestions above assume that you are able to cut back your drinking if you want to. But if you’re having trouble controlling your intake, talk to your doctor. Ask if the amount you consume is safe for you, given your age, medications and health history. Be honest—asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Discuss your alcohol consumption with the doctor.