Don’t shoot the messenger, but baby boomers are hitting the bottle at alarming levels.
Just this week, baby boomers received new warnings about alcohol as people aged 50-plus deaths linked to alcohol soared. The number of deaths attributed solely to alcohol has increased 45% since 2001, according to a report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday.
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While this study was based in the UK, baby boomers in America don’t fare any better. One out of every eight Americans has an alcohol disorder, according to a study published in August 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Psychiatry. While the survey showed alcohol disorders increased for the US population in general, some of the sharpest increases were among baby boomers. For example, high risk alcohol use increased 65.2 percent and alcoholism rose 106.7 percent for the over 65 crowd during the last decade.
By 2020 the number of people receiving treatment for substance misuse problems is expected to double in Europe, and triple in the US, among those aged over 50.
This is bad news for baby boomers since alcohol is linked to more than 60 illnesses and diseases including heart disease, liver disease, cancer, and dementia.
WHY ARE BABY BOOMERS DRINKING TOO MUCH?
We were the generation famous for drinking a martini or Manhattan after work as often shown on the TV show Madmen. But is there more to this growing problem of alcohol misuse? Probably.
Recent studies report that baby boomers, especially those in their 50s and 60s, are statistically the unhappiest age group. Many boomers face stressful events such as declining health, raising teenagers, looming college tuitions, adult children moving back home, caring for aging parents, menopause, the loss of a loved one, and social isolation.
Add to that financial stress. According to studies, baby boomers are more worried than any other age group about retirement security. Many boomers confess they didn’t put enough money aside for retirement and find themselves heading toward their golden years with mortgage and credit card debt.
All of this worry, stress, and depression can easily trigger the misuse of alcohol if not kept in check.
Another factor may go back to the disappointment of our generation that expected a better world. “What does alcohol mean to our generation?” asks Christina Fraser, a relationship counselor with Coupleworks and herself a baby boomer. “We drink to fill a void. Our parents had a job, retired and dropped dead two years later. They worked hard and had fewer opportunities. The baby boomers were given the promise of a world that was full of possibilities. Instead, we are seeing that world close in.”
WHAT IS CONSIDERED OVER-DRINKING?
Baby boomers who love wine o’clock may be shocked to hear what is considered over-drinking. Moderate drinking is one drink a day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. So maybe you’re thinking you don’t drink everyday, mostly just on weekends.
Do the math. Women are considered “heavy drinkers” if they have eight or more drinks a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men can have 14.
A standard “drink,” by the way, is not that big wine glass filled to the tippy top, a huge frosty mug, or giant Hurricane glass. The CDC says a drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. If you pour more than these standard serving sizes, it counts for more than one drink.
While studies show that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle for many people, those benefits quickly turn into health risks. These dangers include an increased risk of cancer, heart, and liver disease.
In fact, on the heels of the new study warning baby boomers to stop over-drinking, comes another statement from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) that “even light drinking increases your risk of cancer.” ABC News’ chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, said that alcohol has been a known human carcinogen, or known to cause cancer, for a long time within the medical community.
Moderate drinkers nearly double their risk for mouth and throat cancer and more than double the risk of esophagus cancer compared to nondrinkers. They also face elevated risks for cancer of the voice box, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
The risk for heavy drinkers is much higher and downright sobering (excuse the pun). Heavy drinkers face roughly five times the risk of mouth and throat cancers and squamous cell esophageal cancers than nondrinkers, nearly three times the risk of cancers of the voice box, double the risk of liver cancer, as well as increased risks for breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
WAYS TO CUT BACK
So we baby boomers have been put on notice. How can we scale back on alcohol use?
Cut down the number of days you drink alcohol. In fact, you may want to abstain for a week or a month to see how you feel physically and emotionally without alcohol in your life.
Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink at one sitting. If you normally drink two glasses of wine, make it one instead.
If you are drinking too much, avoid people, places, things and certain activities that trigger an urge to drink. For example, baby boomers love to splurge on dining out, but this luxury often prompts people to drink more. If this is the case, consider going out to dinner less often.
Find healthy alternatives for coping with stress, loneliness, or anger. For example, if you’re tempted to reach for a drink take a walk, garden, or take a long bubble bath.
Experts say that alcohol misuse among older people isn’t a problem that will simply disappear on its own. This new data should serve as a wake-up call to all baby boomers to examine their drinking habits.