Why are more older women turning to alcohol?
A recent study has found that alcohol use among older women has increased rapidly in recent years, bridging the gap between male drinkers and female drinkers (1).
With alcohol misuse most commonly being an issue with a younger generation, many older people who have developed a dependency on alcohol can fall under the radar.
This is not helped by many older women feeling too ashamed, proud, or embarrassed to seek the help they need.
Why are more older women turning to alcohol?
Of course, there isn’t one answer to this question, however, many older women facing a dependency on alcohol that has developed later in life fall into one of several categories.
Some of the more common reasons why an older woman could develop a dependency on alcohol are:
- Retirement – many retired professionals find themselves suddenly stuck at home with little else to do. Many times the addiction starts slowly – a few glasses of wine with dinner turns into a few glasses of wine with lunch, for example
- Bereavement – losing a loved one is never easy, but while younger people often have jobs, young families, and plenty of friends to help them through, many older people do not have the same network of support and can turn to alcohol to numb the pain
- Loneliness – loneliness can be incredibly difficult to cope with and many older women are turning to alcohol to take their minds off their loneliness. Statistically, women tend to live longer than men and are consequently more likely to develop a dependency on alcoholics due to the reasons listed here (2)
Alcohol can be especially harmful to older women
Older people are more at risk of balance issues and accidents such as falls. As your bones become thinner as you age, this increases the risk of serious injuries such as hip fractures.
Women are also more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than men, and it generally takes a lot less alcohol for an older woman to feel drunk.
Excessive alcohol use over a long period of time increases your chances of:
- Headaches due to dehydration
- Building up a tolerance to alcohol, meaning you will need to drink more to feel the effects
- High blood pressure
- Liver damage
- Brain damage
- Other organ damage such as inflammation of the pancreas
- Cardiovascular disease can lead to heart attack or stroke
- Memory problems such as dementia
Alcohol can also make it difficult for doctors to find other medical issues. For example, if you are experiencing memory loss because of your alcohol consumption, a doctor might incorrectly believe that you are exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
It can also make some conditions associated with older people worse, such as osteoporosis or arthritis. This is because excessive consumption of alcohol can dehydrate the joints and cause inflammation (3).
Many over the counter and prescription medicines are dangerous when mixed with alcohol, and if you are taking any sort of medication – even herbal medication – it is best to consult your healthcare provider before consuming alcohol to make sure it is safe.
Some common issues of mixing alcohol with certain medicines are:
- Aspirin mixed with alcohol can cause bleeding of the stomach lining
- Antihistamines or other cold and flu medication can make you feel drowsy
- Similarly, some medicines such as cough syrup already contain some levels of alcohol and drinking alcohol while on these can increase your blood/alcohol level
- Certain painkillers mixed with alcohol can damage the liver
- Some sleeping pills or antidepressants while mixed with alcohol can be deadly (4)
Do I have a drinking problem?
You may be worried about your alcohol consumption but unsure if the amount you are drinking is a cause for concern.
Ask yourself these questions to figure out whether or not you need to seek help for your drinking:
- Do you drink alcohol to relieve boredom or stress?
- Do you plan your activities around alcohol?
- Do you suffer from withdrawal symptoms if you go too long without a drink?
- Do you find yourself worrying about where your next drink is going to come from?
- Do you get annoyed if you run out of alcohol?
- Do you often drink more than intended?
- Do you start to feel irritable if you don’t drink?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you might want to reach out for help.
How do I get help?
It is understandable if you are reluctant to tell anyone about your dependency to alcohol but understands that the sooner you get help the easier it will be to overcome.
If you have a good support network around you, tell someone you trust about your concerns. Anyone who cares about you will be glad that you came to them for help.
It also helps to have someone to hold you accountable and someone you can talk to when you’re having a particularly difficult day.
Contact your healthcare provider if you feel you need extra help – especially if you have been regularly mixing alcohol with medication. They will give make sure you are in good physical health as well as give you help, support and guidance about your alcohol use.
There are also ways in which you can help yourself. Admitting that you have a problem is often the most difficult step, so once that is done the wheels of your recovery are already set in motion. You need to be aware that it is going to take some self-control, motivation, and discipline to get through this.
Some ways to make things a little easier on yourself are:
- Set daily goals – trying to think of this journey as a whole can be overwhelming and can make you reach for a drink again. Take it day by day by setting daily goals for yourself. For example, don’t drink before a certain time or set yourself a drink limit and stick to it
- Remove alcohol from your house – if you have decided to give up completely, keeping a bottle of wine for visitors is only going to tempt you to drink. Avoid temptation by getting rid of it altogether. If you have decided to cut down, only keep a small amount at home so you are less likely to binge
- Be honest with yourself and your friends/relatives – you might not want everyone to know about your problem but letting them know will encourage them to help you. If they don’t know, they might buy you alcohol for your birthday or ask why you are not drinking during special occasions. Being open and honest means you can avoid these awkward situations
- Join a support group if necessary – many people are going through the same thing as you, so you need to know that you are not alone. Your healthcare provider can direct you towards peer support groups