Navigating the Hazards of Happy Hour
January is the month for new year resolutions. Cutting back on alcohol usually makes the top of the list, along with exercising more and trying to eat healthier. We all have our unique relationship to alcohol. For many, having a few drinks is part and parcel of social gatherings and good times. The comforting ritual of “happy hour” – a time to unwind and relax at the end of a long day – is ubiquitous in our culture. For others, alcohol may be consciously or unconsciously used as an anesthetic to numb loneliness and anxiety. Overall, alcohol use disorder has been on the rise in the US, especially among older adults. The Harvard Medical Business Report cited a study that between 2001 and 2013, the rate of alcohol use disorder increased 107% among those 65 and older. Surveys conducted at US hospitals show that nearly as many seniors are admitted to acute care hospitals for alcohol-related conditions as admissions for heart attacks. For older adults, a variety of factors can magnify the effects of alcohol consumption and jeopardize a senior’s health and safety. The most common include: age related bodily changes, chronic health conditions and taking prescription medications, especially those that have central nervous system effects. While alcoholism, in general, is five times as likely to affect men more than women, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that women are more likely to become alcoholics later in life. Women have higher rates of longevity than men and often outlive their spouses, so turning to alcohol to combat loneliness is likely a factor. Metabolism is also a consideration. Since women do not metabolize alcohol as efficiently as men do, it leaves them more likely to become dangerously intoxicated with fewer drinks than men. They are also at higher risk for developing late-stage complications of alcoholism including, high blood pressure, anemia, malnutrition, and traumatic injury from falls. Awareness of problem drinking patterns is the first step to having a healthier relationship with alcohol. This can be followed by making a plan with specific goals to consciously reduce alcohol intake. Creating the environment to help meet those goals will enhance success for a happier, healthier new year. Here are some tips to help along the wellness journey:
Set a drink limit and count drinks: According to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans drinking in moderation means limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women. For those with chronic medical conditions or who are taking medications that interact with alcohol, strong consideration should be given to tapering and stopping alcohol altogether.
Plan a few alcohol-free days each week: This will help break any unhealthy routines and provide the opportunity to incrementally change to more positive habits such meditating, exercising, or connecting with friends without alcohol being part of the equation.
Swap to low or no alcohol alternatives: Substitute alcoholic drinks with tasty non-alcoholic drinks. There are a wide range of delicious products available including great tasting non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic wine and beer and infused botanicals that can substitute for spirit liquors (https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-non-alcoholic-drinks/). Keeping the home stocked with a variety of these products, along with good teas and sparkling water will help create a healthy environment to reduce alcohol intake.
Water is your friend. Consciously hydrate with water when consuming alcohol. If you are planning to drink alcohol, pour a large glass of water or seltzer to accompany the drink. Drink the alcohol more slowly than the water. When you have finished your alcohol, refill the water glass only and drink it slowly giving yourself the space to slow down and mindfully consider the emotions around a decision to have a second drink.
Delay that first drink.
The earlier you start drinking, the longer a drinking session can become. If you choose to drink, find a milestone in your day that isn’t until later in the evening such as dinner to have a drink. The later you start drinking, the less alcohol you are likely to consume.
Limit how much alcohol you keep in the house.
Research tells us the more alcohol we buy, the more likely we are to drink it sooner than we had intended. If it’s not there, you can’t drink it!
Change your “happy hour” routine.
If you’ve gotten into the habit of reaching for a cocktail at the end of your day to help de-stress, try changing up your routine by finding some healthier alternatives such as going for a walk or taking a relaxing bath. If you still feel like a drink, first try putting the kettle on to make a fragrant tea or reach for a tasty non-alcohol alternative.
For more information on your exploring your own drinking patterns and how you can have a healthier relationship to alcohol visit the National Institute of Health’s site on Rethinking Drinking at https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/
Written by: Anne Sansevero, CEO of HealthSense