Many of us have looked forward to retirement during those busy years of managing a career and bringing up a family. It’s easy to glide into retirement forgetting that it’s a major life transition.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of drinking more alcohol at this stage in our lives. In fact, studies have shown that these days Baby Boomers are drinking more than younger people.
We wake up one morning and everything has changed. It can feel a bit like “falling off a cliff” – no structure, no demands on our time, no children to distract us, no career highs or lows to keep us engaged. If we feel bored it can be easy to have a glass of wine with lunch and then another one with dinner and before we know it, we’ve got through a bottle.
We may feel we’ve lost our identity and status when we retire. We miss our colleagues who are still too busy at work to see us. Our career created meaning and purpose in our lives… and now it has gone.
Who actually are we, and want do we want out of the years that lie ahead?
Retirement often brings financial stress as well as health problems. Alcohol can be a way to self-medicate to cope with anxiety and discomfort.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has created specific guidelines for seniors:
“Those who do not take medication and are in good health should limit their total alcohol consumption to no more than seven drinks per week.”
So that’s fine if you are happy with one small glass of wine but many of us can’t stop at one. My recommendation for those people is to ditch the booze completely because quitting is SO much easier than wasting your time and energy trying to “moderate.”
As we age our bodies become less efficient at processing alcohol. That glass of wine at lunchtime will go straight to our heads and a couple of glasses in the evening will result in poor sleep. Non-drinkers get 7 cycles of REM sleep, drinkers average only 2 which means an ongoing feeling of fatigue.
During my long drinking career I took quite a few tumbles, even falling down a flight of stairs once! Apart from a few bruises, I was usually fine. If I was still drinking now that I’m in my 70s I could easily break a bone. Alcohol negatively affects our bone density which we need to preserve as we age.
Older adults are much more likely to be taking multiple medications, which can interact with alcohol and lead to dangerous side effects. At the very best alcohol will cancel out any benefits from the meds, particularly anti-depressant and anxiety meds.
I finally gave up drinking because I was getting serious blackouts when I lost several hours of the previous day. My doctor told me this was a pre-cursor for brain damage. There is also an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
We all know that alcohol use can lead to liver damage but this is particularly dangerous for older adults who may have liver damage due to age-related changes.
Every glass of wine we drink robs our bodies of four glasses of water. As we age we naturally have less water in our bodies so the health risks of alcohol will increase exponentially. Less water in our bodies means that we are less able to dilute the toxic effects of alcohol.
In addition to ditching the booze, what else can we do to make sure that our later years are a time of joy and relaxation?
If our career was the main source of meaning and purpose in our lives then we have to find another way to self-fulfillment.
It’s important to realise that we are not automatically going to be “happy” now that we have retired.
In fact, our brains are not wired to make us happy all the time, our brains are wired to motivate us to survive. They motivate us to take a step towards a goal and feel happy when we achieve it. Of course, that good feeling is transitory, and we’ll need to take another step to release it again.
Think of our ancestors who were wired to look for food and got a dopamine hit when they spotted an animal they could eat.
So, just as our ancestors had to go hunting to activate their happy chemicals, we have to have something to aim for. We have to have a goal – so find a project.
Use your extra free time to experiment. Learn a language, take art classes, volunteer, if you are fit then train for a marathon – the possibilities are endless.
Check out my article Don’t Wait for Happiness to Strike!
Don’t waste your energy in retirement trying to control your alcohol consumption – ditch it completely and redirect that energy to finding new interests that will keep your happy brain chemicals nicely triggered!
Need Some Support?
If you’d like a bit of support to change your relationship with alcohol then check out Tribe Sober. Sixty & Me readers can claim a 20% discount on Annual Membership by using the coupon code “sixty” when they sign up.
Did you change your drinking habits when you retired? Are you drinking more than when you were working? Were you aware of the health risks of alcohol as we get older?
Tags Healthy Aging