Aging and Alcohol

Sorry, but the news isn’t good. Alcohol generally creates more problems for us as we age.

I never was a huge drinker – I mean, of course, I’ve overdone it multiple times throughout my life, but my ‘thing’ was food, not alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, I love a dirty martini – vodka, straight up or on the rocks, olive juice, with extra olives. Delish! I also love Chardonnay. I very rarely drink red wine, not because I don’t like it but because it stains my teeth. But, hey, if you’ve got a wonderful bottle of pinot or cab, I’ll imbibe and then get up immediately to brush my teeth. Not the best topper to the deliciousness of a good red wine! I also like champagne when I want a change.

I have a house full of both vodka and Chardonnay, plus a few bottles of delicious red wine I got when wine tasting here in Sonoma County. Okay, “house full” is an exaggeration and one I shouldn’t even teasingly make since my sister and I found six gallons of vodka in my mother’s house when she passed away. Yup, six gallons!! I also have the requisite one bottle each of scotch, gin, bourbon, tequila, and cognac for guests.

A Change in the Buzz

It began this past Christmas holiday season when I noticed, after drinking four glasses of Chardonnay in one long afternoon/evening event, that I felt like sh*t the next morning. Not just a hangover, but a real “hit by a Mac truck, I think I have the flu” feeling throughout my body. I chalked it up to too much partying and saw it as an excellent reminder not do that again!

I had lots of opportunities during the long holiday season to change my alcohol consumption and specifically to cut back and add water to the mix – for every glass of wine, I’d have a glass of water. I was surprised, however, that cutting back to three or even just two glasses still left me with the “having the flu” feeling the next day. I thought it was an aberration.

I began to pay even closer attention to my drinking and to cut back to just one drink with dinner, which surprisingly still left me feeling not so great. I had heartburn, a headache, and my inhibitions to not raid the fridge at the end of the evening were greatly reduced, leaving me slightly woozy and stuffed.

What the Research Says

Because drinking isn’t something I routinely talk about with my friends and, therefore, don’t have their experiences to share, I decided to do some research about the affects of alcohol on older people. Disclaimer:  Each person is different, and the effects of alcohol are not uniform across the entire aged population. Without going all medical, let me say, the research supported what I was experiencing.

Older people, in particular, older women, are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.

Long term drinking can add to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage. It can also worsen health conditions like osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss, and mood disorders. Finally, overuse of alcohol can make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat—for example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.

At the very least, drinking can cause some older people to be forgetful and confused, symptoms which could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer’s.

Be Careful

Knowing the powerful effects of alcohol, I’m more conscious that drinking seniors, myself included, run the risk of a greater number of accidents, including falls and fractures and car crashes, let alone the health consequences listed above. 

On a personal note, I’m looking at the overall role of alcohol in my life. Do the fun benefits outweigh the negatives? Do I need a drink to enjoy myself more in social situations? Do I have to quit completely or can I still enjoy the occasional libation and not feel impaired?

I’ll be asking myself these questions over the coming months, and I’ll also be checking out Sober Curious:  The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol by Ruby Warrington for guidance.