Are you drinking too much?
It pains me to think of it anymore, but I spent 12 years on college campuses studying and training (and that doesn’t even count my residency).
College students, of course, are notorious for their drinking, and I discovered that this reputation is well-deserved. And yet after all those years amidst a heavy drinking culture, what truly amazes me these days is how much Florida’s senior citizens drink.
U.S. News and World Report recently identified Cape Coral and Naples as being among the top 10 cities in the nation for heavy drinking. I suspect that Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte were spared inclusion on that list only because of their small size. The truth is, the amount of drinking that takes place in Charlotte County — particularly by seniors and retirees — is unsettling and risky. Part of the problem is that many people in our community have skewed definitions of “moderate” drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate drinking is typically defined as no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men, though it is important to note that some medical experts set even lower guidelines for seniors. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism advocates that people 65 and older drink no more than seven alcoholic beverages a week, and never more than three in a day.
I know what you are thinking: a little prudish, right? Wrong. Failing to follow these guidelines places older adults at greater risk for serious health problems, including, but not limited to, the following:
• Memory loss: A study published in January found that men who drank an average of 2.5 or more alcoholic beverages per day accelerated memory loss by up to six years.
• DNA damage: Another recent study found that DNA cell damage was increased five to six times among weekend drinkers compared to non-drinkers.
• Sleep: Evening alcohol use has been shown to worsen sleeplessness and breathing disruption during sleep.
• Negative health outcomes: Non-moderate drinking puts you at greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes, and depression.
Non-moderate drinking increases health risks for older adults for a number of reasons. Seniors typically have poorer health than when they were younger. As a result, many seniors use a variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications that interact with alcohol. Further, aging leads to decreased lean body mass and increased body fat, resulting in less body water and poorer ability to metabolize alcohol. Simply put, you better pray you don’t get pulled over after a few drinks, because it turns out your blood alcohol concentration is higher than you think.
If you have health problems, take medications, or simply want to be healthier and live longer, it’s time to rethink how much you drink. If your drinking or that of a loved one is not so moderate after all, and you need help reducing your alcohol consumption, consider contacting a licensed mental health professional today
— Daniel Goldman, Ph. D., is a licensed psychologist. If you think you have a problem, pick up the phone and call today. You’ll feel better tomorrow.