Sunday, August 7, 2022

Alcohol and Your Aging Body - What to Watch Out For

Enjoy retirement, but don't overdo the drinking!
One side effect of the Covid pandemic has been changes in the amount of alcohol being consumed by senior citizens.  According to a study by the University of Michigan, about 14 percent of older Americans self-reported that they were drinking more, and about 27 percent said they were drinking less.  

In addition, the average person between the ages of 50 and 80 reported that they sometimes drink at least three or more drinks at one time.  This far exceeds the recommended limit of one small drink for women and two small drinks for men in a single day. For those people who have increased their alcohol consumption, or who admit they are drinking more than the recommended limit, what effect could this have on their health?

Senior Citizens Do Not Process Alcohol Well

Do you feel like you are more prone to hangovers today than in the past?  That is not surprising, because the older we are, the less we are able to process alcohol, and doctors estimate that the biological change begins at around age 50.

Your body has less muscle as you age, and because muscle stores more water than fat, you have less water in your body.  As a result, the alcohol you drink is not diluted as much as when you were in your twenties or thirties.  This means that if you are given a blood alcohol test by a police officer, you are more likely to have a high blood alcohol level.  

The reduced muscle in your body is not the only cause of a high blood alcohol level, however.  As you age, your stomach and liver do not produce as much of an alcohol-digesting enzyme called ADH.  Since women have less ADH than men to start with, they have an even harder time eliminating the alcohol from their system as they age.

We Have a Difficult Time Judging the Effect of Alcohol on Us

We may think that the alcohol we are drinking is not affecting us.  After all, we may not be drinking as much as we did 20 years ago, so there shouldn't be a problem.  Right?  And, we may tell ourselves that we feel just fine.  However, our self-assessment could be completely wrong.  Our perceptions are failing, along with our balance, our reflexes, our eyesight and our hearing.  

Because of our inability to judge our own sobriety, we may believe it is safe for us to drive, even when we are not really capable of safely handling a car.  (By the way, the same is true when we take certain medications.  We may believe our faculties and reflexes are not impaired, when they actually are.)

Alcohol Dehydrates Us, and We are Probably Already Dehydrated

Many older people already fail to consume enough water during the day, leaving them slightly dehydrated.  Try pinching the skin on the back of your hand for a couple of seconds, and then let go. The longer it takes to fall back into place, the more dehydrated you are.  This is a problem for senior citizens, even when we are sober.

Alcohol intensifies the dehydration in our body.  Even though we may think that the beer or cocktail we are consuming would help hydrate us, it really does the opposite.  The alcohol we drink is actually pulling water from our system, which is why you may experience that dry cottonmouth feeling in the morning.  

Notice how much more you urinate when you are drinking alcoholic beverages?  That urine is the water you are losing from your body. 

Too Much Alcohol May Speed Up Brain Aging

As long as you stick to one drink for women and two for men (and we're talking normal drink sizes, not supersize ones), then you are probably safe.  However, if you go beyond that amount, researchers have discovered there is a significant loss in the volume of the frontal cortex of the brain in heavy drinkers.  

What does the frontal cortex do?  It helps us control our impulsiveness and compulsive behavior.  So, the more we drink, the more our frontal cortex shrinks.  This makes it harder to control our impulsiveness and compulsive behavior, which causes us to drink more.  Our brain ages even faster.  It becomes a vicious cycle.

Too Much Alcohol Can Worsen Up to 200 Medical Conditions

We all know that alcohol can cause liver disease.  However, it can also worsen cancer, especially oral cancers.  It can raise your blood pressure (and you thought it would help you "relax.")  It increases your stroke risk, worsens diabetes, and is unhealthy for anyone dealing with an immune system disorder.

Excessive drinking can also make it harder to get good quality sleep.  You may initially fall asleep, but then wake up just a few hours later, disrupting your rest for the remainder of the night.  

Try Cutting Back on Your Drinking

While a small amount of alcohol probably will not harm most people, and a little beer or wine may even help your heart, it is important not to push the limits.  Try abstaining from alcohol for a while. If you feel better after a few weeks without alcohol, then this should tell you all you need to know.  

If you discover that it is almost impossible for you to cut back, and you definitely cannot abstain on your own, find a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.  There are thousands of men and women who have gone through the same thing, and they will be happy to help you.

Support Others When They Cut Back

One type of behavior that is common in problem drinkers is the tendency to push others to drink excessively.  How often have we all heard people push us to drink "One more for the road?" (Are they kidding?  On the road is the last place you should be if you have been drinking!)

Instead, it is far more thoughtful and considerate to encourage people who are trying to cut back, or totally eliminate alcohol, and to do what we can to help them stick with their program.  If they belong to a 12 Step Recovery Group, like Alcoholics Anonymous, they need to be encouraged to stay with it.  

Whether you belong to AA, or Alanon (an organization for the friends and families of problem drinkers) or you just want to encourage someone else, you may wish to send them a positive note or a gift to support their efforts. 

My husband has been in AA and I have been in Alanon for over 40 years, and we have made many friends there.  Those friends have encouraged us and helped us both through some rough times. When I started an Etsy store, one of the things I wanted to include in my shop was a selection of jewelry, gifts and notecards for our AA and Alanon friends.

You can find notecards and gifts for people in 12 Step Recovery groups. See my collection of AA & Alanon jewelryand gifts. 

The notecard shown here, with the photo of the surfer (which I took in Laguna Beach), has the message on the outside that says "Let Go and Let God."  Inside, the card is blank so you can write your own encouraging message.

Another way to encourage a member who is trying to stay sober or stick with their Alanon program is by celebrating things like their sobriety birthdays or Alanon anniversaries.  You can give members of AA program chips in honor of their years of sobriety, or women in a 12 Step recovery program might appreciate a t-shirt or tote bag.  You can find a variety of items on my Etsy store with other slogans such as "Just for Today," "Let Go and Let God" or "Serenity," all of which are thoughtful ways to encourage people in 12 Step programs.

The important thing to remember is that we all benefit when we encourage and support our friends and loved ones as they try to to stick with a 12 Step program, and any way you can do that is beneficial. 

You can shop for these and other items at my Etsy store at 

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Source:  Facts about alcohol and aging from the March 2022 AARP Bulletin.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad or my Etsy Shop, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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