April is National Poetry Month

Elders and Alcohol

Most of us at this blog are old enough to remember when everyone smoked cigarettes. Betty Davis, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart, William Powell, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy – all the cool kids back in those days smoked and they also drank. A lot. At least they did so in their movies.

A lot of us, as we came of age, followed the lead of our favorite screen actors - the social media of the day where we could find out what was chic, fashionable and, as far as it was a concept then, cutting edge.

Even so, it was a surprise to me recently when I watched Revolutionary Road, a movie set in 1950s suburbia starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, how much drinking was going on.

It reminded me of my parents as I was growing up in that decade. So much was alcohol a part of their lives that by age 10 or eleven I was expert, thanks to my dad's tutelage, at making a proper cocktail. Martini, manhattan, old fashioned, whiskey sour, gibson, gimlet, gin and tonic – I knew how to mix all the popular alcoholic concoctions of the era.

When I was older, I realized my mother was an alcoholic. She worked full time all her adult life, never drank during the day but made up for it evenings and weekends. She often said she wasn't an alcoholic because unlike real ones, she remembered to eat.

Yeah. Right, mom.

For a long time I thought my father was alcoholic too but over time I came to believe that he drank to keep up with mom. My point is that I was primed for alcohol to be as big a part of my life as it was for my parents and a couple of other relatives who may have regularly abused it.

Apparently, however, I didn't inherit the gene - if that's what it is - or the habit. Certainly I drink, always have, but appropriately if you don't count a few young-and-stupid benders. And it has always been about being social for me; it never occurs to me to drink when I'm alone.

Nowadays, it's even less and that's just as well. In old age, we cannot drink as much or as frequently as we could when we were younger. A couple of years ago, U.S. News and World Report made a list of how alcohol affects older bodies. A sampling, paraphrased:

Tolerance for alcohol declines over time so your blood alchohol content can be higher even if you drink the same amount as before.

Even moderate drinking can affect liver function leading to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

Chronic conditions are complicated by alcohol. According to the American Diabetes Association, alcohol can cause dangerously low blood sugar up to 24 hours after drinking.

Alcohol can interfere with prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Alcohol dehydrates the body and can disrupt sleep.

In addition, drinking can impair judgment, coordination and reaction time increasing the risk of falls, household accidents and car crashes. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health:

”In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, which can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries...Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.”

All that is not to say there isn't an upside to drinking. A few years ago, CNN reported on a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology which

”...found that healthy seniors who consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol reduce their odds of developing physical disabilities or dying in the next five years by 23 percent, compared with either heavy drinkers or those who abstain.

Medical News Today (MNT) explained that when studies “report harm associated with consuming alcohol, they nearly always refer to binge drinking, alcohol abuse, or alcoholism.” Earlier this year, MNT listed benefits of moderate drinking on elders culled from a variety of studies:

”A study published in the journal Strokefound that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of stroke in women. The study included self-reported data about the drinking habits of 83,578 female participants of the Nurses' Health Study.

“In a study of 2,683 men and 2,822 women aged between 55 and 80 years, Spanish researchers found that regular, moderate wine drinking might reduce the risk of developing depression, while heavy drinking increases the risk. The participants mostly followed a Mediterranean diet and drank wine in a social context, with family and friends.

“An Italian review of studies published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that moderate wine and beer consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular events, but spirits did not.

“Investigators at University College in London reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that moderate drinkers who followed a healthful lifestyle were more likely to see a protective effect on the heart, compared with moderate drinkers who smoked or had a poor diet.

With or without all these studies, I don't have any plans to cut alcohol out of my life. It seems to me that barring negative interactions with disease, conditions and/or medications, moderate drinking is just fine for us old folks if we are so inclined.

Experts have differing definitions of moderate drinking but this one, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines it for people 65 and older as “no more than three drinks in a given day and seven drinks in a week.”

The next question, of course, is how is a standard drink measured. Here's a chart from the NIH:


Next week: elders and cannabis.


I went through a bad patch with liquor after my late husband died, and eventually quit drinking altogether. I developed very low blood sugar (to the point of having to call 911)...and thought I was becoming diabetic. But nope, soon as I left off drinking, all the tests have shown normal blood sugar. I first had that happen when I was 60; no problems prior to then. So the age must have been a factor.

And by the way: experiencing low blood sugar is horrid! Especially so low you cannot get up, only lie there with sweat saturating your body, shaking, thinking you are dying. Awful. (Shudder)

I've never developed a taste for most forms of alcohol, so abstinence hasn't been a hardship. However, far too many people in my and my husband's families have experienced problems with alcohol, including each of our three sons to some extent. The current craft beer craze has me concerned for the millions of young people whose primary form of entertainment seems to involves bars and searching out beer fests. It really is phenomenal in scope. Coupled now with the incredible rise in the number of video gaming establishments (which are required to serve alcohol in order to have the gaming machines) as a source of state and municipal revenue, my concern for the well being of the millennials, especially, has grown exponentially. In the once thriving, now struggling, rust belt city in which I live, there seems to be no end to the growth of both of these. Not surprisingly, our rates of crime and violence have grown right along with these.

And Cara's comment about hypoglycemia is spot on. The thing that has caused my husband the most agony over his decades of being an insulin dependent diabetic are the episodes of low blood sugar. Through the services he's received from the Veterans Administration clinics over the past few years, these episodes have been reduced significantly, but Cara describes them perfectly, in that the person going through it is basically helpless, typically covered in sweat (often to the point that all clothing and bed linen often need to be changed), often unresponsive (sometimes low blood sugar is mistaken for inebriation) shaking, and, despite the sweat, chilled so thoroughly that nothing but a hot bath brings relief. It's fortunate that he had given up drinking anything with alcohol early in his young adulthood, well before the onset of diabetes, as that's one less issue to deal with. Now if we can just convince our sons of the value of being teeltotalers.

Seems to me there's more emphasis on alcohol now than there was in the '50s. You don't see it as much in TV or movies, but where I see it is in social media - friends posting pictures of their drinks, women drinking wine - and in the culture around me, in the form of "paint and drink" nights out, an explosion of microbreweries, craft beers, home brews... It seems to me that alcohol is at the center of the activity rather than an adjunct to it, like in the old days.

It might be me; I quit drinking decades ago, mostly because I didn't like the taste or the effect. I've met a few other people like me, who don't get a pleasant buzz (or whatever it is) when they drink alcohol.

I never developed a tolerance so was a cheap drunk - not that drunkenness was usually the goal. A few years ago I started having hangover symptoms the day after even one glass of wine sipped slowly with dinner. I stopped drinking alcohol altogether and don’t miss it a bit. I contributed nothing to my clarity of mind.

Coming of age in the early 50s, I experienced all the advertised wonders of the time. Those Coming of Age markers: Smoking at the age of 17, drinking as soon as I was of age (then it was 18) and imbibing all the dreadful concoctions of the time. However, it was all social , and I never developed the dependence, well on alcohol anyhow, that some did. I suppose, as much as anything, I just didn't like the headaches next day. Took 30 years to correct the cigarette addiction.

Even now, I'll take my two glasses of sherry between 4 and 6:00 in the evening in the company of my cat, and call it a day.

So while there are those who cannot or should not use alcohol, many can and find it a relaxing was to end a day.

The kids of today will have to experience their own rites of passage. Each will experience it in different ways, just a we did.

At least in 'our day' we thankfully did not have the constant lure of those easily available drugs that were ubiquitous a decade later.

Good post, Ronni. Thank you.

Alcohol was never a big factor in my life, though I've enjoyed a bit of whiskey now and then, and, in younger years did get ravingly drunk on two or three occasions.

Alcohol abuse is also associated with some severe conditions of the Pancreas.

I enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, before or with our evening meal. My spouse no longer drinks, so we don't go out to have a drink with friends like we used to many years ago. But I can remember back in the 1970'swhen we would get together with friends at one house for before dinner drinks, then go out to dinner with drinks, and then come back to someone's house for an after dinner drink. I know by that time I was drinking water, but many in the group were enjoying all those drinks, mostly mixed drinks. Many of those friends also smoked.

I have a low tolerance for alcohol, so aside from those few binges back in college, it's been easy for me to limit how much I drink. I hate being sick.

I do remember with fondness the brandy old fashioneds that I would have back in the day, but I am sure I could not drink more than a swallow or two now.

I for one enjoy a glass of wine in the evening. I also do a margarita when I have Mexican food and I like Sangria. But I limit myself to one or two and do not do this every day....just when I go out, which is often.
I agree that it is relaxing and can heighten good conversation. I'll all for it.😊😊

I learned in college that before I get high or happy, I get sick. And then feel awful the next day. And I don't particularly like the taste of alcohol, either. In recent decades, of course, there's the concern of mixing alcohol with my prescriptions. So I'm quite content with no alcohol in my life.

My parents never drank much, but my brother drank a lot.

My husband and I enjoy some wine with dinner if we having pasta or some beer if we're eating Tex-Mex food. My husband travels a lot in his work, but I never drink when he's not around.

Finally, I never ever drink and drive. Neither of us smokes or ever has.

My name is Regina, and I am an alcoholic. I have been sober for 40 years (coming up in May), but alcohol ruined my life in my 20s until I was finally able to quit, with a lot of help and a 12-step program. I still cringe when I remember some of the terrible mistakes I made while under the influence. I know that if I started to drink again now, I would soon lose control.
I am appalled at the current culture of alcohol consumption, and the constant touting of local wines and craft beers. I always bring my own non-alcoholic beverage with me to private events because occasionally I have ended up drinking water from the kitchen faucet because there was nothing provided for people who don't drink alcohol.
People who can drink responsibly are fortunate and should have at it. But it should be remembered that alcohol is a viscous killer of many, for different reasons, and up to 1 in 10 people develop the disease of alcoholism, for which there is no cure except for complete abstinence.

When I was a teenager, some 65 or so years ago, I was so drunk from drinking beer with my buddies one day that I fell down and bounced my head on the concrete. While I was not hurt, the experience was so, well, sobering, that I have never since been even close to being drunk, though until a few years ago, a drink or two was sometimes enjoyable. My heart goes out to those who were/are not so easily dissuaded from over-indulging.

Now that we are (well) beyond our era of the heavy responsibilities of children and career, it is a great pleasure to have a drink with my husband as we wind the day down at dinnertime. Wine for him, beer for me (for whom even a sip of wine results in a crushing headache). Yes, every night. On Fridays or Saturdays we might get *wild* and have a second glass--always at home, NEVER when driving. Is it hurting our health, or is it keeping us healthy? As you point out above, Ronni, studies can go either way. It seems moderation, as always, is the wisest road.

I'm pretty sure I have an addiction gene -- lots of alcoholism in my family. Fortunately I got purple spots on my face and migraines when I drank. Never got the hang of smoking either. My drug of choice is dark chocolate.

Another important topic you’ve introduced, as usual, for us elders to discuss. As with so many substances alcohol can be abused intentionally, carelessly, unintentionally. Moderation in all things can be a wise practice, as my mother who rarely had a drink of alcohol told me, but the term seems to mean different things to different people. Her mother had been a charter member of the WCTU, yet in her elder years, living alone on her farm, I recall she had a brown paper bag from which she occasionally sipped throughout the day. My mother and aunt confirmed her explanation that it was a bottle of cough syrup, or some such medicine. Privately they speculated it had a high alcohol content, but she never exhibited outward effects of excessive intake.

There are instances of excessive drinking in my family history and even family-destroying consequences with the much-to-young individual dying of cirrhosis of the liver. He and his brother (who had related issues) served in WWI in Europe which, as an adult, I’ve sometimes wondered if they might have had the equivalent of what we now refer to as PTSD.

The reality is, I believe all too many others experience events — perhaps as children, young adults or older — that result in their having a form of PTSD or even the full-fledged version. This might give rise to an inclination for self-medicating. I’ve mostly (youthful explorations) had a healthy relationship with alcohol, but don’t drink daily. Have thought perhaps I should have a glass of red wine, but I prefer white when I do have wine. I am aware, given my family history, I could be more susceptible to alcoholism, but I don’t obsess about that.

Frankly, I find various official source specified consumption limits a bit of a mixed bag with numerous factors coming into play — body weight, gender, physical and mental health to name a few — and age. FWIW U.S. Health Services dietary recommendations are for lower consumption than even two drinks a day for some as I read on this site Dietary Guidelines 2015 to 2020:

There just seem to be variations based on differing criteria of what is thought to be safe healthy alcohol drinking levels. Recent TV public service announcements I’ve seen recommend women to limit themselves to two alcohol drinks per day. These may have had to do with preventing drunk driving. (Will be interesting to explore issues, guidelines with cannibis and auto accident rates in states with recreational use now legal).

Alcohol use is all to often a form of self-medication (is cannibis?) noted in medical community to be quite prevalent in the elder community. Often self-described intake of having “only a couple drinks a day” is found to be an understatement when later examined. I was surprised how many individuals referred for my adult rehab services in speech-language-hearing parhology whose medical charts I reviewed included an alcohol disease (ETOH) in the diagnostic list.

Some others without that factor on their list, especially those who also required my providing them swallowing therapy, seemed unusually concerned that their condition was preventing them from having their daily afternoon drink(s). We could wonder if this indicated possible alcohol medical issues that this could be repeatedly expressed by them as such a concern. On the other hand, a beer was sometimes ordered or allowed by a doctor as an appetite stimulant if the swallowing function permitted safe intake.

Trying to sort out what is best for each of us does seem to require knowing our bodies, reviewing all these guidelines and exercising common sense judgment. Those with even slight dementia issues and their loved ones can encounter challenging alcohol, other substances, self-medicating issues. I recall reading somewhere that guidelines for elders (because our bodies can function differently as we’ve aged, that we might need to have even lower alcohol intake than typical guidelines given as appropriate, since those are likely predicated on when we were younger.)

As an alcoholic--40+ years sober--I am, like some of the rest of you, disturbed by how important alcohol is to our culture, how in many situations it appears essential. I've been in situations where folks felt sorry for me that I "couldn't" drink. I've had folks ask me why I don't drink. I reply most times, though it is none of their business, that I don't drink because I am alcoholic. I do this because I am deeply annoyed at the ignorance around this issue. My late husband was also alcoholic, and he didn't recover. It was horrible. He was a successful lawyer, and it seemed to me no one noticed.

One of the problems with these studies about the value of moderate drinking, and I'm sure they are sensible, is that alcoholics, like my husband, could use them to justify their own pathological drinking. I remember how, reading somewhere that Hemingway drank a bottle of wine with every meal, I thought oh, then I don't have a problem.

I saw alcohol ruin my younger sister's life...lots of alcoholism in my family on both my parents' sides. I was married to my high school boyfriend for 14 years but could not stay married as he was an alcoholic...now, he is 80 and in poor health having destroyed his balancing ability plus no energy...I still see him when our children have family events.

I enjoy a glass of wine (ONE) every evening after dinner as I usually eat before starting the wine. If we are out late then I do not have any wine. If I am staying with girlfriends from high school I might have a second glass but that is rare.

I've told this story before but it fits today's topic. An acquaintance , the mother of my son's friend, took a tumble down her stairs, struck her head, was in a coma on life support for a week, then the plug was pulled....she was a sharp lady in good health, but my son told me that she had been drinking. All too often accidents happen and can be fatal.

I don't like beer at all. I would enjoy a glass of wine or cider with a meal once in a while, but my husband is alcohol intolerant -- anything more than a quarter-serving of any alcoholic beverage and his face flushes uncomfortably. So usually we don't bother. For special occasions like New Year's Eve we may share a single bottle of apple cider.

I do occasionally put a dollop of Bailey's in my hot chocolate, as a special treat.

(Alcohol does work to calm my lung irritation, but so does chocolate, for about the same length of time, so there's really no impetus to self-medicate.)

Hollywood glamorized smoking and drinking and we young fans wanted to emulate that exciting life style of partying and looking cool. Alcohol was the main part of our social life and many nights I went to bed, after visiting friends, slightly tipsy. I always had a headache the next morning. Now I joke that I have the hangover without the fun the night before.

I think I was lucky in that I didn't like the "morning after" so I learned to moderate my consumption. When I developed Meniere's syndrome that led to my hearing loss I was advised to quit smoking, which I did. But I quit drinking when I realized that my husband had become an alcoholic. He was a functioning alcoholic and it never interfered with his work and our son,unfortunately, followed in his father's footsteps. Now that my son has retired his drinking is worse, sad to say.

I didn't inherit an addictive personality and that, coupled with my low tolerance for alcohol, kept me from becoming an alcoholic. Until the last few years I would have an occasional drink and always had wine when with friends, but I never drank alone.

The past few years I find that I don't enjoy the glass of wine, even on holidays, so if I have a drink at all it is a small amount of wine in the bottom of the glass. Even that makes me a bit unsteady and with my poor sense of balance I never imbibe alone. I sure don't want to fall again.

My partying days are over.

I spent too many years on the "party circuit" in my 20s and early 30s--way too much time during my potentially most productive years squandered. To say nothing of what a liberal intake of alcohol on at least an intermittent basis may have done to my brain cells, general health, career and relationships.

Alcohol problems run in my family, and in the end I determined that I would be much better off as a non-drinker. That was 40+ years ago, and I've never regretted the absence of alcohol in my life. I married a fellow non-drinker (Spouse #3), and we're still happily married. Hmmm. . .interesting. Could there be a connection?

My great uncle was the town drunk, he'd sit on a bench in front of the courthouse waving at everyone. Alcoholism runs strongly in my family. Every now and then I'll splash some whiskey in my coffee but that's the extent of my drinking. I don't want to take the chance of being a drunk like everyone else in my family.
My three sons are in their early to late twenties and I feel like shaking them sometimes, despite our warnings, they think getting drunk every weekend is the thing to do. All of their friends too. Most of them are parents now and I simply can't understand them.

My darling Husband has not had a drink for 36 years. We met 32 years ago so, We never had a drink together. I like to have a drink if we are out to dinner with others who will order. Then I order a cosmo. Just one and i'm done. I really enjoy it though.

Like others I have done my share when I was younger.

I used to be a moderate wino and loved it; however, as I age, I find that during allergy season, some wines do not work for me. I will get a headache and racing heart-benign but not pleasant. So, my go to is vodka and tart cherry juice. Again, I am a moderate and enjoy my libation in the evening to relax, sometimes. For me, I have a lot of neck pain and will not take medication for it. Vodka or formerly, wine gives me a relief for a few hours and is much enjoyed. Keeping it moderate and every once in awhile, avoids any side effects. Reading the studies is enough to confuse anyone, pros and cons and at the end of the day, being moderate is the best course. We are all going to die of something so might as well enjoy the journey.

My drinking is purely social, usually with my wife. We can spend an entire evening together with computer blazing, TV in the background, chatting sporadically and downing anywhere from 1 to 4 or so drinks. Such fun. I wish it could last forever, but it will be "'til death do us part" or health becomes the "party pooper". We love restaurants and usually have an hour's worth of cocktails before ordering. My sincere complement to my wife is "Being with you is as easy as being alone". Good thing we have similar attitudes about drinking. It's hard to find people that keep it in its place while thoroughly enjoying it.

When we get too old to do this, I'll be sad.

In my youth, drinking was wild and crazy--sometimes dangerous. I'm glad that I made it though those years. The stories are many. I'll sweep them under the rug.


I always enjoyed sipping wine while I read my Kindle in the evenings. Last summer the air in my area was classified as unhealthy due to wildfires in the surrounding areas. When the classification moved to "dangerous" I tucked in and stayed home. I was out of wine, but it certainly wasn't worth going out for. A week later when it came time to shop, I realized I hadn't missed it and decided to take a break. Eight months later, I still don't miss it - or the calories. I've shed some weight without even trying. Win-win.

This subject has good timing---

I have never been a drinker during my life -- a social drink now and then but that's it--but after I turned 70 and with my husband having been gone now for 7 years I started drinking a glass of white wine at night with my dinner. For some reason it makes the meal not so lonely.

It has been three years now and I am getting this urge to use a bigger glass. I worry that I am going to develop a habit as I now really look forward to the wine at night. Is this a problem I ask myself?

My daughter says not to worry ---at the rate I am going even if I increase to a bigger glass I will die before I have a problem. How does one know?

Strange, no? Is this common to start to drink when you are old?

The TV show, Mad Men, showed the excessive drinking that went on at the office & at home. A friend who worked in advertising during the 70s and 80s, said it hadn't changed much.

Alcoholism was prevalent in Dad's family and earlier generations. He had cousins who ended up in an orphanage and an uncle who died a Skid Row bum. His own father committed suicide during an alcoholic binge. Dad liked an occasional beer, but he was disciplined about it and stayed away from bars and people who drank too much.

Drinking was the social scene in college and in my 20s (the same as today). I realized I didn't really like drinking. I can't tolerate alcohol very well. It turns my face red, my nasal passages swell up, I get very thirsty and I get a bad headache.

Now, I am on a HBP medication that interferes with alcohol. I found this out the hard way, by having a 2nd glass of wine. It was a very delicious wine. I got very dizzy and dropped on the bedroom floor like a sack of potatoes. I'm sure I woke up the downstairs neighbors.

I know many women my age who drink. They drink wine. They drink too much wine. They drink to relax & unwind or to join their husbands. I just hope they don't regret it.

I should've have ended my post above with saying I don't drink.

I could say a lot about this issue since I've have spent many years recovering from the affects of someone's drinking problem.

Alcohol is a drug and alters the chemistry of your body. It's considered a depressant and their is a good reason why you have to be a certain age to purchase it.

I don't drink and have on occasion been asked why I don't when I go out with those that do. I just tell them I don't. I think the next time I am asked, I might turn the conversation around and ask why they choose to drink. I would be curious to hear their reasons.

I ask for a separate check when dining with those that drink. My experience is that once the alcohol hits their system, money issues can sometimes blur when the bill is due.

I'd like to have the lessening chance to have another stroke. I can't tho as I am a recovering addict alcoholic of 33 years. Life has been very kind to me since I got sober. Recently I had a CT scan. Tho that didn't show details of my stomach problem, it did indicate chronic Pancreatitis. Who knew.

Good article, thanks Ronnie.

I went years from age 19 (that year was ahem....fun) until my 50's before enjoying alcohol. At 19, I didn't like it, but the drinking age had been lowered to 18 (thank you Vietnam vets). So, hell yes, we took full advantage. Some stupid stuff, too.

I am too allergic to beer (probably should avoid grain altogether, but not celiac). Husband #3 and I enjoy a couple of glasses of red wine about 5-6 nights a week, before dinner. He is non-insulin diabetic, and wine (or beer) actually keeps his blood sugar from spiking with a meal. Some red wines will really knock me for a loop in terms of sneezing and runny nose, so we are careful when trying new labels.

In the summer, I love fruity beach drinks on the weekend.

We recently tried some vapor pens with cannibis oil (secret supplier as Texas is...well just plain stupid). I just never liked the feeling of disconnect, the spaced-out high, and the paranoid state. Wine is my preferred chill-out.

Here's Yeats on the subject:

"Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all that we will know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you and I sigh."

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