Showing posts with label how AA can help alcoholics recover. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how AA can help alcoholics recover. Show all posts

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Retirement

My husband and I have been in 12 Step Recovery programs, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon, for over 40 years, since we were both in our 30s.  As young adults, alcohol abuse was already having a bad effect on our marriage, and my husband realized he had to stop.  I realized that I had to change some aspects of my behavior, too.  Although we were still young adults, we knew that we were headed for disaster if we continued on the same path.

That was over 40 years ago, and we are so glad we made the joint decision to make some major changes in our lives, although it has not been easy.

One of the things we have noticed over the years is that more people show up at our AA and Alanon meetings each January, usually because people have over-indulged during the holidays.  Gradually, many of them leave, convinced that they either cannot stop drinking, or they cannot change their behavior in other ways.  

However, for those who stay in 12 step recovery programs, most of them have discovered that it has changed their lives for the better, and dramatically improved their relationships with their spouse, children and other friends and family members.  You are never too old to start changing your life, too.

The Covid pandemic caused millions of senior citizens to increase the amount of alcohol they drank.  Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that about 14 percent of older Americans self-reported that they were drinking more.  Stuck at home, often spending large amounts of time by themselves, drinking became all too common.

Many adults between the ages of 50 and 80 reported that they sometimes drink at least three or more drinks at one time.  This is significantly more than the recommended limit of one small drink for women (about a half cup) and two small drinks for men (totaling about one cup of wine or two normal size beers) in a single day.  Many people have no idea the effect that large amounts of alcohol can have on them.

Seniors Don't Process Alcohol Well

The older we are, the less able we are to process alcohol, and doctors estimate that this biological change begins at around age 50.  This means that you are more likely to suffer from hangovers and other health problems when you overindulge. 

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 by water 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 after fewer drinks.  If you want to avoid those DUI tickets (and the huge expense), you need to seriously reduce the amount of alcohol you consume when you go out. 

The reduced muscle in your body is not the only cause of high blood alcohol levels.  In addition, 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.

Most of Us Cannot Judge the Effect of Alcohol on Us

In some cases, we do not think we are drinking as much as we did 20 years ago, so we convince ourselves that we do not have a problem.  However, regardless of what we believe, we could be completely wrong.  Most of us have no idea how much alcohol is affecting our balance, our reflexes, our eyesight and our hearing.  

Because we have difficulty judging our own sobriety, we may be certain it is perfectly safe for us to drive, even when we are not capable of handling a car.  (By the way, the same is true when we take certain medications.  We may believe our faculties and reflexes are not affected, when they really are.)

Alcohol Dehydrates Us, and We May Already Be Dehydrated

Many older people do not drink enough water during the day, which leaves 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 for the skin to fall back into place, the more dehydrated you are.  This is a common problem for senior citizens, even when we are sober.

Alcohol does not hydrate us. Instead, it increases the dehydration in our body.  Even though we may think that the beer or cocktail we are drinking is a liquid and would, therefore, help hydrate us, it really does the opposite.  Alcohol pulls water from our system, which is why you may experience a dry cottonmouth feeling the next morning.  

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

Too Much Alcohol Can Speed Up Brain Aging

As long as you stick to one drink for women and two for men in a day (and we're talking small drink sizes, not supersize ones), then most people are probably safe.  However, if you go beyond that amount, researchers have discovered that we lose volume in the frontal cortex of our brains.  In other words, our brain starts shrinking!

What does the frontal cortex do?  It helps us control our impulsive and compulsive behavior.  So, the more we drink, the more our frontal cortex shrinks.  This makes it harder to control our impulses, which causes us to drink more.  Our brain ages even faster.  It becomes a vicious cycle.  In addition, your brain volume does not come back when you stop drinking.  You may continue to be more impulsive and compulsive.  That is why going to alcohol rehabilitation or joining organizations like AA are so helpful.  They help people recognize and change any negative behaviors which may linger even after you are sober.

Alcohol Can Worsen Up to 200 Medical Conditions

We all know that alcohol can cause liver disease.  However, alcohol abuse can also worsen cancer, especially oral cancers.  It can raise your blood pressure (and you thought it would help you "relax.")  It increases your risk of having a stroke, worsens diabetes, and is unhealthy for anyone dealing with an immune system disorder.  Those are just the tip of the iceberg.  Alcohol can make almost any disease worse.

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

Try to Just Cut 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, even occasionally.  Try cutting back or giving up alcohol for a while. If you feel healthier and generally better after a few weeks without alcohol, then this should tell you everything you need to know.  Keep it up!

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

Support Others When They Cut Back

One type of behavior which is common in problem drinkers is the tendency for them to push other people 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 much more helpful to offer encouragement to people who are trying to cut back, or eliminate alcohol from their lives, and we should do whatever we can to help them stick with their program, whether they are trying AA or some other sobriety program.  If they belong to a 12 Step Recovery Group, like Alcoholics Anonymous, they need to be encouraged to stay with it.  

Whether you join AA, or Alanon (an organization to help the friends and families of problem drinkers deal with the problems that alcoholism causes) or you just want to encourage someone else, you may wish to send them a positive note or give them a gift to support their efforts and let them know how proud you are of their efforts. 

Help them celebrate events such as their sobriety birthdays or Alanon anniversaries.  You can give members of the AA program jewelry or t-shirts to help them celebrate. 

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 sober recovery program, and any way you can do that is beneficial. 

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

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