I lied. There actually is no good. Unless of course, you count the immense pleasure drinking has brought me over the years. The biting salt on the rim of a frozen margarita, the perfect martini – chilled vodka with a hint of olive juice – rippling down my throat, or an ice cold beer on a steamy hot day. Or, how about Chablis with a plate of oysters, or a hot toddy before a roaring fire? I could go on.
Alas, it turns out that some things we love so much are very bad for us. That is if we have more than one of them. Especially as we age. And right when we might feel we need it the most! And yet, despite the very clear health consequences, it turns out we are drinking more than everyone else and than ever before. Women between the ages of 45-64 drink more than any other age group, and high-risk drinking, defined as more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for women, is on the rise among women by about 58%, according to a 2017 study comparing habits from 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. Sure, we have lots of good reasons to drink — divorce, being widowed, empty nest, lack of sleep, rage, back fat, and depression, among others — but this is really not good news.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but the health risks associated with high-risk drinking are staggering, and particularly for women our age. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), more than one drink a day for women increases our risk for a plethora of serious health problems – heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, breast cancer, dementia, and god knows what else. By way of example, the risk of breast cancer for women who drink 2-5 drinks per day is 1.5 times greater than the risk for those who don’t. And that literally means one per day – it’s not like Weight Watcher points; you can’t save up Monday through Thursday and have three drinks (or six) on Friday. Alcohol also makes our depression and anxiety worse. And the hangovers! Jeez, just a drink or two and I feel like I was hit by a cinder block. And the real ugly? The effect on our sleep. Not only does alcohol interfere with a good night’s sleep, but it can intensify hot flashes and night sweats. A less discussed and fairly shocking risk associated with moderate to heavy drinking in our cohort is the increase in unprotected sex which has resulted in women 45 and older having one of the fastest growing rates of sexually transmitted diseases! We’re not just drunk, we’re diseased! LOL LOL LOL
Well, that was clearly a buzz kill. So what are we to do? Get out the mocktails, friends. Invest in a library of soothing teas. Perhaps you live in a state with legalized marijuana and the idea of a tasty edible appeals to you. Or, just drink in moderation if you must drink at all. Make that one drink something beautiful and savor it. Red wine has antioxidants which are good for your heart. And the NIH did a study which found that moderate alcohol consumption (one drink a day ladies) may protect against coronary heart disease, which is good because we become more at risk for that as well, as our estrogen decreases.
If you’re really bothered by all this news, note that in Ireland their Department of Health defines moderate drinking for women as up to eleven drinks a week, four more than the US. So, I guess we could all move.
If you’ve started to notice a change in the way alcohol affects you as you age then this episode is for you. We’ve got an interview with Dr. Jennifer Wider about the nitty-gritty health facts when it comes to alcohol.