My grandfather Peter R. Slingsby was a heavy drinker. He died in 1914 at age 58.
When I saw a blog about April being Alcohol Awareness Month, I thought about my aunt and uncle and other relatives who have struggled with alcohol problems through the years.
How does alcohol affect baby boomers?
Twelve percent of people aged 55 and older are either binge drinkers or heavy alcohol users, according to a 2001 National Institute on Drug Abuse study.
A 50-year-old-plus body can’t process alcohol in the same way a younger body does, and alcohol is often taken in combination with another substance, reports Aging Well in the article “Substance Abuse in Older Adults.”
In addition, those in their 50s take, on average, more than one prescription medication, which can lead to other addiction problems.
Since baby boomers consumed more alcohol and other substances during their early and middle years than current older adults, they may be more likely to continue to misuse alcohol as a coping mechanism in their later years, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
What health problems are associated with excessive alcohol use?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates excessive drinking – both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking – is associated with numerous health problems, including but not limited to:
- Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
- Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns, and firearm injuries.
- Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
- Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Alcohol abuse or dependence.
A study also reports that heavy alcohol consumption seems to exaggerate the physiologically shrinking of the brain that occurs with age. Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t seem to affect brain volume.
What are the warning signs of alcohol abuse?
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have a problem with alcohol:
- Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
- Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
- Does your drinking worry your family?
- Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won’t?
- Do you ever forget what you did while drinking?
- Do you get headaches or have a hangover after drinking?
Where can boomers find information and resources?
“Survey to Determine If You Display Any of the Characteristics of Abusive Drinking Behavior” – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
“Resources for Treatment” – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
If you or a friend need immediate assistance with a substance abuse problem, you can call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service's toll free number: 1-800-662-HELP or 1-800-662-4357.