The post-war generation in particular – baby boomers – are drinking more. We also know that men and women drink more at home nowadays, and the increasing ease with which you can add a cheap box of wine bottles to the weekly online shop, delivered to your door, is fuelling the problem.
Female ‘baby boomers’ drank more when they were younger, because more went out to work where the drinking culture was already established by men, and then they continued to drink more as a group.
Sometimes people are ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol for stress – from looking after ageing parents, and debt-ridden adult children who have returned to the family home, while all the time holding down an exhausting paid job. Or they are caring for grandchildren. Women and men might begin drinking more after a forced early retirement because the sudden abundance of free time can leave people with the feeling they’ve lost purpose in life. They might have suffered from loneliness after the death of a spouse, or friends, or a divorce.
But this sort of drinking habit can have devastating consequences as you get older. In two-thirds of the cases of alcohol abuse in later life, people have had a drinking problem that got worse over the years.
I would strongly urge people in their fifties and sixties, and older, to ‘think before they drink’, especially if on medication. Excessive consumption is leading to early deaths from liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, and fuelling depression and anxiety. Men and women may also have problems managing diabetes and high blood pressure, and heavy drinking exacerbates dementia. And women don’t tolerate alcohol as well as men, and start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men. We also know that the body’s ability to process alcohol decreases with age. Even if you were a moderate drinker in your youth, you may find that the same amount of alcohol you used to drink will lead to trouble when you’re older. Priory has launched a campaign on the hidden signs of drinking to excess.
Top five hacks to give up alcohol
The cost savings - halving your restaurant bill
There are huge benefits to giving up drinking including tangible ones and the fact that it will virtually halve the cost of eating out in restaurants at a stroke. And if you spend, say, around £20 a week on 2 bottles of wine for drinking at home, you will save £1,040 by the year’s end. Invest in something you enjoy, and reward yourself for cutting out alcohol.
The ‘look yourself in the mirror’ moment
I see lives devastated by alcohol. You need to look honestly at your weekly alcohol consumption. Keep a drink diary if you don’t know. Familiarise yourself with what a ‘unit’ consists of and what the alcohol unit guidelines are (no more than 14 units a week). It’s not as simple as one drink, one unit. Large wine glasses hold 250ml, which is nearly three units or more in a single glass. Likewise, one pint of strong lager can contain more than three units of alcohol. A 750ml bottle of red, white or rosé wine contains around 10 units. By knowing what you consume, you can make the decision to stop. (If you are a heavy drinker and stop suddenly, you can get withdrawal seizures so you should always consult a doctor.) I often see people whose drinking levels have crept up on them over several years and who use alcohol to cope with unreasonable work pressures, or life crises such as divorce or bereavement. But drinking is not a coping strategy.
Avoid social functions and resist peer pressure
It is very hard to attend social functions where alcohol is plied and you are under peer pressure. Stay away. No one will really care whether you are there or not. If you do go, mentally prepare how you will refuse alcohol, though it’s far more common now for non-drinkers to say ‘I am not drinking at the moment’. You don’t have to use the old cliché that you are on antibiotics. Keep away from supermarket aisles stocked full of alcohol. Don’t put yourself in a high-risk situation.
Think of losing weight
Giving up alcohol is a huge incentive to losing weight and looking better, because there are lots of hidden calories in alcohol. According to a YouGov survey, the average wine drinker in England takes in around 2,000 calories from alcohol every month. Drinking five pints of lager a week adds up to 44,200 calories over a year, which is equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts. Alcohol Concern says that of those who gave up alcohol for the first month in 2017, 49% lost weight over the month (62% of people also slept better, 79% of people saved money and 65% sustained reduced levels of drinking six months later, while 8% of people stayed dry).
If you fall off the wagon…
Just get back on. Don’t beat yourself up about it. And if you get to December without having had a drink, why not continue? Your body and brain will thank you for it. Drinking alcohol is a well-established risk factor for a range of cancers, including tumours of the mouth, liver, breast and colon and bowel. And the risk of cancer rises with levels of alcohol consumed. New figures show that accumulated drinking over a lifetime is taking its toll. This month it was revealed by the Office for National Statistics that the alcohol-linked death rate among men aged 70 to 74 years has increased by around 50 per cent since 2001, from 18.7 to 28 per 100,000 in the population. During the same period the rate for women aged 60 to 64 years has increased by around 35 per cent. So sadly older people are increasingly dying from alcohol abuse as decades of drinking take their toll on the baby-boomer generation. That’s a wake-up call for us all.