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Why Are Older People Drinking More?

By Janet Gourand April 01, 2024 Health and Fitness

Alcohol use among senior citizens is on the rise. Although historically older adults were less likely to drink than younger adults, recent studies show that older adults are now drinking more frequently and in larger quantities than in the past.

The Data

The size of the older adult population is increasing rapidly. Alcohol use among older adults is also increasing. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that approximately 20 percent of adults aged 60-64 and around 10 percent over age 65 report current binge drinking.

There is also a French study that monitored 10,000 people for five years before and after retirement which showed that drinking increased after retirement.

So that’s the data – let’s look at the reasons behind this increase. These reasons are both social and psychological.

9 Reasons Why Baby Boomers Drink Too Much


Boredom is one of the most common psychological reasons for drinking. When people retire, they have more free time and if they are used to drinking in their free time, this obviously leads to more opportunities to imbibe.

Retirement can be a difficult transition so we tend to cling on to familiar rituals like pouring a glass of wine “to take the edge off.” The habit of drinking to alleviate our stress may have started when we were working full time but if the habit has become entrenched then we will continue this habit into retirement.

We used to have “hobbies,” but many people decide that their hobby is “socialising” which in effect means drinking with friends!

Loss of Daily Structure

Without work, there are less reasons NOT to drink. Without the restraining factor of work responsibilities, it’s much easier to drink more. After all, even if we have a headache in the morning, it doesn’t matter that much as we don’t have to go into the office.

We saw a similar trend during Covid, and according to this article in the Washington Post consumption of alcohol in the U.S, which had already been increasing for years, accelerated during the pandemic as Americans grappled with stress and isolation.

At the same time, the number of deaths from alcohol related causes skyrocketed nationwide during Covid, rising by more than 45 percent.


Work may also have provided opportunities for passive socialising around the office, so when that stops, people have to rely on social connections that are more likely to revolve around drinking.

We may scout around for some new hobbies and find that the “book club” or the “art class” or the “bowling league” involve alcohol. Even yoga has been hijacked by the alcohol industry, and we are now encouraged to pair yoga with wine tasting!


Many older people live alone and turn to alcohol to distract themselves from feelings of loneliness.

During our careers we had a connection with our colleagues and often saw them socially. We try to keep in touch when we retire but inevitably find ourselves with less in common as time goes on, so we drift apart. Our children are grown and often living far away, and a weekly Zoom just doesn’t create that connection we crave.

It’s so easy to start building a relationship with that bottle of wine. Alcohol becomes our best friend – always reliable, always there… and helps us (temporarily) to feel better. Our tolerance builds to the extent that we can easily work our way through a bottle of wine each night.

Loss of Identity

For many people, their career played a significant role in shaping their identity and sense of self-worth. Our identity as a “working mom” meant we were in demand from both our family and our bosses – it was stressful, but we certainly felt “busy and important”!

Retirement can lead to a loss of identity and purpose, especially if a person’s job was a central part of their identity. Drinking might be used as a way to cope with feelings of loss or uncertainty about personal identity in retirement.

A lot of us ladies find ourselves replacing the “career woman” persona with a “lady who lunches” identity – we convince ourselves that these are our golden years and we deserve to reward ourselves. It’s so easy for that bottle of wine with lunch to stretch to two as we catch up with a friend.


Despite work stress being in the past, there are still financial pressures and health concerns which alcohol can temporarily alleviate. The world in general is also becoming more stressful and the media coverage more intense. Many older people read more news as they have more time, which adds to their stress levels. 

If we haven’t established an exercise routine earlier in life, it’s easy to become more sedentary. Getting up late, pottering about a bit and then opening the wine at 6pm may sound idyllic, but it can lead to depression – especially as the wine itself is a depressant!

Lack of Knowledge

In my 20s I was a smoker – so were most of my friends. When I hit 30 all tobacco ads were banned in the media. That’s when the media began to reveal that smoking was linked to lung cancer. Once that fact was in the public domain, millions of people (including me!) gave up smoking.

Alcohol is linked to 7 types of cancer and more than 60 diseases, but many people are unaware of this. This information is not often seen in the public domain. The health risks also increase as we get older. Here is an article listing 6 reasons to quit drinking when we get to 60.


The liquor industry still has a tight grip on all forms of media. From misleading news articles assuring us that “red wine is good for us” (it’s not) to the beautiful ads showing groups of happy people drinking to the movies and tv series complete with glamorous ladies drinking wine and macho heroes knocking back their whiskey.

The alcohol industry spent $6 billion on advertising in 2023… because it works. We are bombarded with messages which we absorb subliminally even if we resist them consciously.

Women are targeted at every stage of our lives – as teenagers we had Alcopops, as Moms we had our Mommyjuice wine, and of course in retirement we are prime targets. We have more time to drink, more disposable income and are prepared to spend money on fine wine and even start a “wine collection,” often perceived as the height of cultured sophistication.


As baby boomers we grew up with very different cultural attitudes towards alcohol. We believed it was ok to get drunk sometimes, and the “work hard, play hard” ethos was encouraged in many corporates.

The liquor industry cleverly hijacked the feminist movement so that drinking with our girlfriends in the newly created “wine bars” felt like liberation. Not only were we aspiring to earn as much as the boys, but we wanted to drink like them!

Fast forward to retirement and many of us have had a 40-year drinking career which has resulted in a dependence. Many people think it’s too late to change and the attitude is, “I’ve worked hard all my life so I deserve to take it easy and drink my wine.”

As a baby boomer who (finally) quit drinking at 63, I can confirm that it’s never too late to make a change. You can read my story here.

5 Tips to Make a Change

Be Curious and Find Your Purpose

Human beings were not designed to do nothing. We are wired for survival which means that we need to find a purpose. When our purpose is no longer tied to our career and family, we need to get curious and explore. We can’t just sit around waiting for happiness to strike (it won’t). We need to find a way to keep our happy brain chemicals triggered.

Find a new hobby, sign up for a course, and if you’re really stuck for ideas, then book some sessions with a life coach to explore some options. Think about what you used to enjoy doing as a child. When we drink too much we can lose ourselves, and one of the joys of alcohol free living is reconnecting with who we are and what we really want out of our lives!

Don’t Let Alcohol Become Your Best Friend

Although it may start out as a friend, alcohol can evolve into an abusive lover. Even if you kick it out of your life, it may charm its way back. At Tribe Sober we recommend that people write a Goodbye to Alcohol letter when they quit drinking. It’s a powerful and cathartic experience, and it’s also something you can read regularly to remind yourself of all the reasons you don’t want to go back there.

See Through the Marketing

We’ve been manipulated for decades to believe that alcohol will help us relax, socialise, deal with stress. For many of us, these beliefs sit in our subconscious and drive our behaviour. The key is to acknowledge them and then overturn them. If you believe that you can’t enjoy socialising without alcohol, then you’ll need to try it – socialise without alcohol – again and again. Yes, it will feel awkward at first, but eventually you’ll learn to relax as your subconscious gradually accepts that you don’t HAVE to drink alcohol to have fun – who knew! ;-)

Next time you watch a movie, count how many minutes pass before the star of the show (alcohol) puts in an appearance. Once we start to see through the marketing, it loses its power over us.

Educate Yourself

Make one of your new hobbies a research project. Find out everything you can about the damage that alcohol does to our bodies and brains. The more we learn the less we feel like drinking it!

If you’re looking for clear and compelling explanations read Alcohol Explained by William Porter or listen to him on this podcast.


It’s never too late to implement some kind of exercise routine – even if it’s just walking or chair yoga. Exercise will trigger your happy brain chemicals and give you a sense of achievement and a natural high, rather than the chemical buzz we get from alcohol.

If you have become dependent on alcohol, go for a walk at the time when you usually open the wine bottle. When you return, you’ll feel less like having a drink.

These tips for change require thought and planning. Alcohol is such a quick fix and so socially acceptable we’ve come to rely on it far too much.

We are living longer than ever so our emphasis should be on “living well” for those last 10+ years. Putting our time and energy into building an alcohol-free life that we love makes so much sense whatever age we have reached.

Dr. Tony Rao is a psychiatrist who works with alcohol dependent older people. You can listen to me interviewing him on this episode of the Tribe Sober podcast.

At Tribe Sober we enable people to change their relationship with alcohol.

Our next Free Webinar is on 7th April at 5pm South African time. The topic is “Kickstart your Alcohol Free Lifestyle.” You can register for the webinar here.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How many years have you been drinking? Do you drink consistently – a glass or two of wine most evenings? Have you ever tried to take a break to test your dependence? Have you noticed an impact on your looks after a taking a break? Did you lose weight? Do you ever worry about your drinking? Are you aware of the health dangers of alcohol as you get older?

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Rose Marie Kimball

Although drinking is widely socially accepted for seniors it destroys our fragile health. Most older people truly want to live a healthy lifestyle. However, I’m always surprised to meet people who drink at every social occasion. I get asked why I don’t drink anymore and I honestly reply that it simply does not look good. It messes with our energy, sleep and personalities. There are so many options to choose for alcohol free drinking. More and more bars offer alcohol free cocktails. Companies sell wonderful cocktail mixes and shrubs to make your own alcohol free concoctions. Alcohol free wines taste quite nice and would be a lovely addition to any table.

janet gourand

absolutely Rose – the Liquor industry targets teenagers with their marketing and they continue bombarding us with their false messaging about alcohol …until we are seniors – it’s relentless! – so well done you for resisting and replying confidently to people who ask why you’re not drinking – some of them will eventually realise that you are the smart one and they’ll change their own behaviour!


As we age, our bodies do not process alcohol the same way. The fact that alcohol is poison and will shorten our lives is a good enough reason to quit. Reading the Naked Mind helped me apply the logic of not drinking. Break the addiction and drinking becomes a choice.

janet gourand

yes Cheryl – the Naked Mind was a gamechanger – once we’ve dismantled our limiting beliefs around alcohol we can choose to be alcohol free – no willpower needed!

Marie Thomson

Great article. I’m 72 and drink less than I used to when working. I’m aware it is a depressant. With everything that’s going on in the world, who needs that!

janet gourand

absolutely Marie – that’s why it’s ironic that many of us drank to relieve our anxiety and depression!


I at 75 have stopped drinking – it makes me very tired and gives me night sweats. Drink no alcohol beer and cranberry and soda when socializing. I feel much better.

janet gourand

nice one Wilma – I also drink alcohol free beer – its delicious!


I believe in moderation. In virtually EVERYTHING, including but not limited to alcohol consumption. I am 7 months away from fully retiring. I’m not afraid of it, I’m embracing it as just another chapter of my life’s book. I have plans for it but I know that sometimes life happens when your making other plans. But if you don’t resist it, changes can be a good thing. It’s all in your mindset. Drugs & alcohol abuse muddle your thinking and will ultimately be a destroyer rather than a builder to whatever your retirement future looks like for you…I am much more interested in building myself up than tearing myself down. Especially at this time of my life!

janet gourand

we all deserve to enjoy the golden years of retirement Julie… alcohol can easily steal them away so they pass in a blur! – I’ve just been coaching a lady to quit drinking in preparation for her retirement – she’s taking a world cruise to celebrate and as she says she doesn’t want to be able to treasure the memories. As you say alcohol will tear you down if you let it!

The Author

Janet Gourand is a writer, a podcaster and a recovery coach. She quit drinking in 2015 at the age of 63. She founded Tribe Sober which enables people to change their relationship with alcohol. Tribe Sober is an international community which offers a membership program.

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