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Drink, Be Merry, But Be Very Careful!

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It’s common for adults to enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or eggnog with their meals during the holiday season; but no matter the time of year, it’s always important that you don’t overdo it, especially as an older adult.

As you age, you become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects. After age 65, your lean body mass and water content decrease, and your metabolism slow down. This means that alcohol stays in your system longer, making the amount of alcohol in your blood higher than it would have been when you were younger.

Even without the influence of alcohol, older adults are more likely to have hearing and vision problems and slower reaction times. This puts them at higher risk for falls, fractures, and automobile accidents, and that risk only increases when tied to drinking.

Some medical conditions in people older than age 65, and the medicines used to treat them, can worsen with alcohol’s effects, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and ulcers.

Medicines taken by older adults, as compared to those taken by younger folks, are more likely to have serious interactions with alcohol and drugs according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The same holds true even if they’re not taken at the same time. Why? Because the drug may still be in your blood when you have a drink.

Heavy alcohol use—at any age— can lead to other health problems.

So, what’s a safe amount?

The NIAAA recommends that people older than age 65 who are healthy and do not take any medicines have no more than 7 drinks a week, an average of 1 standard drink each day, and no more than 3 drinks on any 1 day. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, ale, or wine cooler; 8 ounces of malt liquor; 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor.

How to Cut Down

If you want to limit your drinking starting with this holiday season, try these steps from the National Institutes of Health:

  1. Write down your reasons for cutting back. These might include wanting to improve your health or sleep better. Other reasons may be to improve relationships and to stay independent.
  2. Track your drinking habits for at least 1 week. Write down when and how much you drink every day.
  3. Set a drinking goal. You may decide to cut down to 1 drink a day or not to drink at all. Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it where you will see it every day.

As they say, “Eat, drink and be merry!” But most importantly, be smart and be careful when consuming alcohol.