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  • Writer's picturePeggy Spear

Boomers and Booze are an Explosive Combination



So, it’s true: you can take a Boomer out of their youth, but you can’t take the youth out of a Boomer.


While that is a great indication of the youthful attitude of grandparents, older workers, and the main population of America, it does come with one major drawback:

Boomers’ joie de vie, evidenced by drug and alcohol use earlier on in their lives, may be getting worse as time isn’t quite on their side anymore. This is particularly true for aging Americans when it comes to alcohol.


A New York Times article published yesterday (4/4/24) detailed the statistics of alcohol use and abuse of older Americans. It was eye-opening, man.


The Times reported that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual number of alcohol-related deaths from 2020 through 2021 exceeded 178,000: more deaths than from all drug overdoses combined.


According to the Times, “An analysis by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that people over 65 accounted for 38 percent of that total. From 1999 to 2020, the 237 percent increase in alcohol-related deaths among those over age 55 was higher than for any age group except 25- to 34-year-olds.


Whoa man, indeed.


You might notice that those dates fell in the heart of the pandemic, a time when according to both the CDC and NIH, Americans’ drinking soared.


In the Times article, George Koob, director of the NIH, said Americans largely fail to recognize the hazards of alcohol. “Alcohol is a social lubricant when used within the guidelines, but I don’t think they realize that as the dose increases it becomes a toxin,” he said. “And the older population is even less likely to recognize that.”


Time, it seems, isn’t on our side.


My friend-group is largely on the cusp of the boomer generation, as we were largely born in the early to mid-60s. Although I don’t drink, many of my friends imbibe from casually to binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks on one occasion for men, four or more for women. And according to the NIH analysis, while older drinkers don’t drink as frequently, they tend to binge drink when they do. And binge drinking has climbed nearly 40 percent over the past 10-15 years.


This comes with severe health and societal issues. Older adults just aren’t able to metabolize alcohol the way they did when they were younger, and that can lead to more severe problems, such as pancreatitis, cardiovascular issues, problems with interactions with other medications – including anti-anxiety drugs -- and good ole cirrhosis of the liver.


Not to mention, as many older adults, and even some of us middle-aged folks will tell you, night driving or driving in general can become harder as our eyesight changes and reflexes slow down. This can pose a scary situation on American highways and in American neighborhoods.


Why is the older generation drinking more? Certainly, one of the number one culprit was the pandemic.


“’A lot of stressors impacted us: the isolation, the worries about getting sick,’” Dr. Koob said.


Researchers also cited a “cohort” effect. Compared to those before and after them, “the boomers are a substance-using generation,” Keith Humphreys, a psychologist and addiction researcher at Stanford, said in the article. And they’re not abandoning their youthful behavior, he said.


Surprising women are leading the force, a leadership opportunity that we really don’t want to be proud of.


“From 1997 to 2014, drinking rose an average of 0.7 percent a year for men over 60, while their binge drinking remained stable. Among older women, drinking climbed by 1.6 percent annually, with binge drinking up 3.7 percent.


Contrary to stereotypes, upper-middle-class, educated people have higher rates of drinking, Dr. Humphreys explained. In recent decades, as women grew more educated, they entered workplaces where drinking was normative; they also had more disposable income. “The women retiring now are more likely to drink than their mothers and grandmothers,” he told the Times.

 

So, what can be done? Some states are lobbying for a liquor tax, a la cigarettes. While that might deter some older drinkers on fixed incomes, in my experience the best way to combat alcohol abuse at any age is through treatment, and experts agree.

 

“Treatments for excessive alcohol use, including psychotherapy and medications, are no less effective for older patients,” the article said.  In fact, “age is actually the best predictor of a positive response. Treatment doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become abstinent. We work with people to moderate their drinking.”

 

If you aren’t an addict or alcoholic, moderation programs work great. If you can’t seem to keep your drinking down to a level that is safe, then you may have a problem and total abstinence is the best recourse. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Dharma Recovery and Liftering can help and have been proven truly effective.

 

What we don’t want to happen is to lose an entire generation to the perils of alcohol. That just wouldn’t be cool, man.

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1 Comment


chilebrowne
Apr 05

Being a boomer and former lush rummy pot since I was 15 years old, I am not a fan of catchy non threatening terms like binge drinking. Call it for what it is and use a proper boomer term; he likes to get fucked up.

I had a mocktail last night at a fancy restaurant. I questioned myself; why did I feel the need to have a fake drink in hand. I did not really enjoy it. In the future I am going to just have water despite the frown of the bartender. I feel good about that.

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