When To Worry About Drinking

I’m drinking more than I used to. I have mixed feelings about this, and I’m not sure what to do.

First things first. Congratulate yourself on admitting your ambivalence. We often work so hard to quell internal discomfort or our own instincts to defend against what other people tell us to do that we lose our sense of what’s actually wrong or right for ourselves. Good for you for honestly accepting that drinking — and not drinking — are mixed bags.

The next thing you can do is to educate yourself as much as possible about how alcohol consumption impacts your body and your life. Studies show that older bodies metabolize alcohol differently and are more sensitive to its effects. The current recommended standard of consumption for people 65 and older is no more than 7 “standard drinks” in a week, and no more than 1-2 drinks on any given day. Older adults who drink are at greater risk of myriad complications and health issues:  falls, injuries, accidents, exacerbation of existing health problems like diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and existing mood disorders, to name just a few.  Alcohol and medications are almost always contraindicated and in some instances drinking on certain medications is highly dangerous.  So check in with your body and your experience of drinking more. How is your health? Are you taking medications that warn against alcohol use? How have your balance, memory, mood and ability to take care of yourself and others been? How is your liver? (You can ask your Primary care physician to run a hepatic panel of blood tests to see.) Are other people in your life worried about your drinking? Are you hiding it, and drinking in secret? Do you feel you have control over when, where, and how much you drink? Does it sometimes feel outside of your ability to control? Alternately, are you able to control your intake, but the result is a preoccupation with NOT drinking?

Finally, like all behaviors we’re ambivalent about changing,  talking to an expert like a therapist who works with older adults can be extremely helpful. Specialists will use interventions like motivational interviewing to help you weigh the pros and cons of drinking, reducing, or ceasing. They’ll help you understand why you might be drinking more, and help you tease apart all the thoughts and feelings you have about it. Being kind to yourself and being open to knowing yourself better is often the best pathway to take the best care of yourself you can.

Posted in Hear From Our Clinicians.