Alcohol Consumption: On The Rise in Older Women

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. It was established in 1987 by the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) to help reduce the stigma of alcoholism. This time is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of the problem and the importance of getting treatment for those that need it.

This is an important message that needs to be heard in our society, especially by older women. Recently, the Chicago Tribune published an article titled, “More Older Women Hitting the Bottle Hard” that focused on the increase of alcohol use in this specific population. Today, older women are engaging in binge drinking far more than their male counterparts.

Trends in Alcohol Consumption Among Older Americans: National Health Interview Surveys, 1997 to 2014 – a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, revealed that among men, the average prevalence of binge drinking remained stable from 1997 to 2014, while it increased an average of nearly 4 percent per year among women.

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Researchers collected data on more than 65,000 men and women aged 60 and older who were current drinkers. Among these, more than 6,500 men and 1,700 women were binge drinkers.

This type of excessive drinking can be a serious health problem for women simply because they don’t tolerate alcohol as well as men. Alcohol dissolves in water and women have less water in their bodies.  This means that if a man and woman of the same weight drink an equal amount of alcohol, her blood alcohol concentration will tend to be higher. Additionally, women start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men.

Heavy drinking is associated with liver disease, heart disease, sleep disorders, depression, stroke, bleeding from the stomach, and several types of cancer. In older adults increased alcohol consumption can also result in more falls, accidents and injuries.

Although it was evident to researchers that older women were drinking more, it was not clear why. Some speculated that baby boomers drank more as young people and just continued to do so in later years; others believed it was more a ramification of culture. Alcohol consumption in women is more culturally accepted today than it was in the past. Either way, it’s a troubling trend.

At Timberline Knolls, we are acknowledging the importance of alcohol awareness throughout the last week in April. Our campus-wide events include: speakers from both AA and Al-Anon and creative performances by residents as well as alumnae sharing stories of recovery. Alcohol Awareness Week bracelets will be worn by both residents and staff and on the final day. Residents will write their message of hope on a piece of red paper, as well, a collage called “A Reminder of Hope” will be created and displayed on campus.