Researchers say people between 30 and 65 are more concerned with their behavior than they are with their long-term health.
If you were drinking too much, what would you be concerned about?
It might seem that health risks would be viewed as the biggest issue. However, a recent study of middle-age drinkers found that overall, they’re far more concerned about social stigma than potential health problems.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia looked at a dozen previous studies to get a glimpse into the mindset of drinkers between the ages of 30 and 65.
They noted this group voiced concerns about how they may be negatively perceived while drinking.
“Concerns about health and healthy behavior, however, were either minor or non-existent,” the study authors wrote.
They also noted that, by and large, middle-age drinkers use their behavior, rather than their health, as the benchmark for safe drinking.
There’s no doubt inappropriate behavior while drinking can be embarrassing. But drinkers might want to pay more attention to the long-term health risks.
“As we age, alcohol takes longer for the body to break down alcohol,” Dr. Brad Lander, a psychologist and addiction medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
Lander detailed a host of drinking-related health risks that come with age, including decreased tolerance, problems with balance and reaction time that can lead to accidents, intensifying existing health conditions, early onset dementia, certain cancers, depression, and decreased sexual functioning.
The study notes various reasons why this demographic chooses to drink. Chief among them is relaxation, but other reasons come down to social roles, including reinforcing gender norms.
While it might seem with the stress of everyday life that this group might be the most likely to develop problematic drinking habits, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Lander points out that he and his colleagues have treated adolescents as well as people in their 80s for alcoholism, along with all ages in between.
“As a person ages, they become more vulnerable to developing alcoholism,” he noted. “Seniors may drink more to seek relief from boredom, loneliness, and grief that are common with aging. Interestingly, among seniors, women are more likely than men to develop alcoholism.”
Drawing the line between moderate, safe consumption and the kind of drinking that can lead to alcoholism can be tricky.
Lander says it’s a personal matter that can vary from person to person.
“The rule of thumb is, if drinking is causing any health problems — health, relationship, functioning, emotional — then it is too much,” he advises. “According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the recommended limits for the average senior are no more than seven drinks in a week and no more than three drinks in one day.”
Lander says the best way to get someone to moderate their drinking — assuming they haven’t developed alcoholism yet — is through communication and sharing concerns.
“This is even more effective coming from a doctor,” he said. “If drinking has crossed over into alcoholism, more impactful measures will need to be taken, such as an intervention or behavioral contract (‘If you do this, I will do this’).”
Aside from family, friends, and doctors, there’s no shortage of public service campaigns intended to discourage overconsumption by highlighting the negative health effects of drinking.
Unfortunately, as the researchers concluded, most drinkers simply tune these messages out.
So, what deterrents are out there to curb overconsumption?
For starters, researchers suggest switching the focus of campaigns from health risks to social stigma, since it seems to resonate more.
“Public health strategies can focus on meeting responsibilities to others, the possibility of causing harm to others, the requirements for respectability in drinking, the physical limits of ageing bodies and subsequent physical consequences, and gendered expectations of behavior,” wrote the study authors.
For those who want to take control of their drinking, Lander recommends mindfulness in social settings.
“A lot of drinking is ‘thoughtless,’ so simply ask yourself, ‘Do I really want a drink, or another drink?’” he recommends. “At social gatherings, drink some nonalcoholic as well as alcoholic beverages.”
He also advises drinking plenty of water, remembering to eat, and keeping in mind that you don’t have to drink.