Resolving to Drink Less
The new year is often a time for reflection and goal setting. Many people take this time to make resolutions. Some would like to save more money or lose weight. If you threw back too many toasts on New Year’s Eve, you may have “drink less” on your list of resolutions in the new year.
Many Americans enjoy having a drink occasionally, and today’s older adults grew up in the “Mad Men” culture where an office cocktail (or three) was more common. But overindulging in alcohol consumption can have many bad effects on our health, especially as we get older.
The Centers for Disease Control says that alcohol contributes to almost 50,000 deaths annually. And there are special considerations facing older adults who drink. As we get older, we are more sensitive to alcohol. That glass of wine might be hitting quite a bit differently than it did in your thirties. Alcohol can also contribute to falls in older adults, and we know that falls can cause a spiral of health problems that lead to less independence in older adults. Heavy drinking can exacerbate health problems common in older adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, memory problems, and mood disorders. Older adults are also more likely to be on certain medications that can have adverse reactions to alcohol. We also know that alcohol disrupts sleep when our brains should be doing the important work of cycling through REM and non-REM sleep and performing “routine maintenance” that keeps us at peak cognition while we are awake.
So there are lots of good reasons to quit or cut back. Drinking less is better than drinking more. If you or a loved one has resolved to cut back on your alcohol intake, what practical steps can you take to achieve that goal?
First, be kind to yourself. It takes time to switch habits. You probably didn’t build this habit overnight, and it will take time to wind down. You are taking an important first step.
Next, get a handle on the problem. Do you know how much you are currently imbibing? Make a drinking diary to track how much you are drinking and how it makes you feel. Putting it into writing can help you view the problem as a whole. Then, you can learn your patterns of drinking and discover possible triggers. Do you always drink at home when you are alone? Make a plan to call a friend or go to a fitness class during this time.
If your other resolutions are to lose weight and save money, quitting or cutting down on alcohol can solve those two problems at once! Beer can be surprisingly calorie-laden, but you won’t find that out from the can. As a legacy of the prohibition era, alcohol is regulated by a different entity than the Food and Drug Administration, so it does not typically have to label nutritional information. That can make it harder to find out just how much sugar is in your wine or make a healthier choice. You can use online calorie calculators to see how much your evening cocktail or glass of wine is affecting the numbers on the scale. And as you cut back, put the costs of a six-pack or a cocktail into a jar, and you can literally watch the money pile up. Having that visual might be an effective motivator!
If you try to cut down and find you are having trouble, there is no shame in asking for help. Talk to your doctor about counseling, a support group, medications or entering a treatment program.
Right at Home’s in-home caregivers help older adults living in their homes make better lifestyle choices. Whether that’s cooking preparing nutritious meals, companionship, assistance with physical fitness, or transportation to community events. Contact Right at Home of Eastern Long Island for an in-home assessment.