Curbing binge drinking when you’re over 40

The NIAAA defines a binge drinker as someone who consumes more than five standard drinks in one sitting. If every Australian was asked to put their hand up if they know someone who has had this many drinks on a weekend (or if they do themselves), it would probably look like a national Mexican wave.

When we think about binge drinking, often we imagine teenagers or young adults downing pints of beer or spirits, and getting into tricky situations, having to go to hospital, making regrettable decisions and generally being pretty messy. One thing that might surprise you is that, statistically, some groups of older adults are alongside their younger counterparts in being classified as ‘binge drinkers’.

Binge drinking is something that many older adults might be in the habit of doing, either at home with their partners, or while out with friends. Think about barbecues, dinner parties, long lunches … situations where there is lots of alcohol available, no real limits on time, and surrounded by others who are drinking similar quantities.

Drinking to celebrate or ‘cut loose’

Often in these situations it is expected that people will be drinking to get drunk, and drunken behaviour is either tolerated or celebrated – maybe it is part of a bonding experience or a way to relax. Often it is something that we don’t really think of as being unusual or problematic if it is all around us and everyone is doing the same thing. Sometimes it is only when we start to experience the harms of binge drinking, like health issues, mood issues the following day, or consequences from decisions made when drinking, that we might consider making changes.

Binge drinking amongst older adults has been in the spotlight lately, most notably for the fact that as we get older, our bodies respond differently to alcohol and so drinking to excess can have much more significant effects than when we were younger. In addition to this, there are all the other risks that arise when we are drinking to excess. Things like falling over, risky behaviour, drink driving or even getting involved in altercations. Adults who are binge drinking might describe feeling really ashamed about some of the situations they find themselves in, saying things like;

‘I should know better, I’m an adult!’, or ‘I can’t believe I got so bad, I’m really embarrassed’.

As adults we like to feel in control and often have lots of responsibilities and so it can be frightening to find ourselves in situations where we can’t remember what happened, or being told that we behaved in a certain way because of alcohol.

The health effects of binging

Doctors will often advise those over 50 to moderate their alcohol consumption, with an increased risk of all types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disease seen in high-risk drinkers over this age. For us, we see a lot of Daybreak members making the decision to step away from binge drinking around this age. This is due to a number of reasons, including health, mood, and also a desire to socialise in a more moderate and balanced way. Many people actually find that when they cut back on their drinking, social occasions are a lot more manageable (fewer hangovers and consequences) and they will be able to focus on interacting with friends and loved ones, rather than drinking to excess.

If you think you’re at risk of binge drinking, or you fit into the category of someone who is drinking in excess regularly, here are some ideas to start to make changes:

Monitor your drinking for a week – just keep track of how much you drink by taking note on your phone. Consider how much you’d like to be drinking and how much would be reasonable for you to aim for. Consider the situations in which you might be wanting to drink less and the situations where no change is needed.

Try implementing some replacement behaviours – like soda water or even low-alcohol beer or wine, to see if this will help to reduce the amount you are consuming in a session. Even a few glasses of soda water with lime is going to help your body to process alcohol if you are drinking. Often we tend to binge when those around us are drinking heavily, there are no limitations, and we are drinking on an empty stomach, so see if you can address these issues.

Take note of the ‘culture’ in your friendship group – is it around getting drunk together, and if so, what might you like to change about this? Sometimes this can be the biggest challenge – saying no to that extra drink and needing to explain that you are cutting back, and why. Try experimenting with this and some possible reasons you may have for cutting back, including health, or even saying ‘I’m taking a break for a while, to see what it’s like without alcohol’.

Talk to those around you about creating goals– for reducing the amount you are drinking. Discuss with them how much is ‘enough’ and what kind of relationship with alcohol you might like to form. Maybe your partner or friends are also noticing the cumulative effects of alcohol on their bodies and mood. Perhaps consciously changing the drinking culture in your home might help turn things around and give you a boost.

Consider situations where you generally don’t drink as much and look at what helps in that situation – is it knowing you have a limit (e.g. driving), or is it situations where you’ve eaten beforehand, or are with people you know aren’t big drinkers? See if you can use these existing situations to inform future plans. Similarly, consider the situations where you tend to drink heavily, what is happening there? Is there an expectation that you’ll drink, and a situation that supports this (e.g. staying overnight, unlimited alcohol).

Ensure that if you are going to a party or social event, that you have eaten – or are going to eat something to balance the effect of alcohol on your stomach. Many people will experience gastrointestinal issues as a result of drinking on an empty stomach, this means that the alcohol impacts us more quickly, as well as irritating the stomach lining and leading to further health issues.

If you find you need extra support to help you change, check out Hello Sunday Mornings’ mobile behaviour change program, Daybreak.

I was a binge drinker in my mid 40’s. Almost destroyed my marriage, relationships with my children, numerous bad falls including a black eye one time, promiscuous behaviour. It was a disastrous few years. Thankful to be healthier now but I still miss those ‘carefree’ nights – until I remember how bad/sick/guilty/anxious I felt the next morning…

good writing; no clammy Aa feel. well done.

So happy I’ve actually read this I’m over 50 and was looking at a change of lifestyle

I can relate. This helps a lot. Thank You

Great article it’s so true that the over 40s age group have just as much issues with alcohol

Good article. I think i drink without too much thought…always have. Now 49 and do not want to give up drinking but need to have a balance so as to live healthy enough to enjoy life and drinking well into the future…lots of my mates need to do the same.

I am depressed for a couple of days after a binge. Never noticed it when I was younger. Used to be a day as I got older but now it could be all week. It’s just not worth it.

It does seem to be true that if you are a big drinker it is expected and encouraged for you to drink more or something is wrong. A culture that needs to change

This is very relevant; thanks for highlighting in your postings. Binge-drinking over 40 became my “go to” in trying to deal with the stress of job, deployments, divorce, estranged young adult children and adjusting to a new environment. It is extremely challenging when your partner is a drinker as well. The difficulties with aging and drinking are spot on. Please publish more for this age group.

A timely article for me with some great tips. I am going to start by noting how much I drink this week.

Great article!! at 51 I would have been considered a binge drinker, I started with Dry July and have now continued on it’s almost October! Life in general is much better AF more fulfilling no anxiety about what I may have said or done weight falling off happier home life it’s all positive ☀️

. For anyone really interested in what happens to our brains, ie… feeling anxious, depressed the next day or days… pls look up Annie Grace and the naked mind and do the 30 day alcohol Free experiment. You won’t regret it.

So timely to read this now thank you. Today is the first day of AF month for my husband and I and I’m so looking forward to it – the freedom of not deciding how much or when to drink, just no drinking at all. It is a very slippery slope.

54 looking toward to changes in health as happened 17 yrs ago when I stopped smoking wish I had stumbled across a site like this then. this site is well laid out and gives me hope a course of action is available to address my concerns with a wealth of knowledge from such a wide array of topics and experiences of different people. gr8 work

Im 61 and it’s been a year and a half without alcohol for me . Six months before I retired I knew that I would be facing a lot of time with myself and nothing to do and didn’t want to drown myself in booze ! It’s been a challenge but am so happy I gave it up ! Good luck and a happy life to all that give up the drinking , I wish I did it years ago !

I’m 59 and 6 weeks sober. Feeling really great though sleeping a lot. 45 years serious binge drinking and yet I am still here. Reading these experiences is very reassuring. I am now learning to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and seeing more good in the world.

Can’t agree more that the much older age groups can be stuck in binge drinking or just quietly drinking a bit too much most of the time!! It’s very easy for retired people to open that bottle of wine every evening…Would be great to have more that is specifically relevant for this age group on Daybreak.

Thankyou for an honest article. I’m 40 but life is nowhere near what I thought it would be like. I have to learn to cut down on alcohol and this article has given some great ideas. So much changes in our lives and unfortunately we turn to drinking without realising how much we’re consuming. It doesn’t help when your marriage falls apart, kids still rely on you for help even though they tell you they’re an adult!

All of the comments about it being a slippery slope resonate. When you enter your 40’s, you are tied up with kids and work and there seems little time to really tap into what it is you really want to be doing at this age and going forward. The nights seem to feel the same….so a bottle of red while cooking dinner turns into another while you’re watching some mind numbing show on Netflix. It’s a slippery slope. Then all of a sudden its the weekend and you can’t wait for the sun to start setting to open a bottle and get the night started. It’s a slippery slope. The nights seem more interesting…..however the mornings and days are spent feeling dusty and there is a lack of that clarity that you seem to have when they are not drinking. The 40s and 50s are supposed to be the age that can just be ‘left to be’ as you are expected to have it all together (career, kids etc), however it is usually the time that people are feeling the most lost….

Great article. I’m 40 and stopped drinking nearly 4 weeks ago. Life is SO much better as I feel more connected to my family & children and have tons more energy and drive. I no longer worry about whether I need to go to the bottle shop or if I’m sober enough to drive somewhere. It’s funny, but looking back, in my 20’s we didn’t drink every day, only at parties. Now that we’ve approached 40 most people we know seem to drink all the time and when I was at my worst I’d easily down a bottle of wine on my own and then some. It’s never too late to stop, our bodies are amazing at healing and forgiving past transgressions.

Used to binge to cope with divorce and a job/boss I hated. Dreaded Mondays so Sundays could often result in second bottle of 15% shiraz being opened. been dry for 4.5 years and its the best thing I’ve done. Health better, lost some weight and also lost those horrible “fears/anxiety ” the days after a session.

I’ve wanted to give up alcohol for years but I let my lifestyle control me. Now at 63 I am finally sober. It feels so great not to have to pour alcohol into my system every day. Most of my friends late 50s and over 60 are still drinking like crazy. I read This Naked Mind by Annie Grace and boy what a wake up that was. I highly recommend. This site is awesome too and has helped me tremendously. Thank you!!

Great post/read. I live in a culture where binge drinking in my age group is a common practice when getting together with friends on the weekend. However, it bled into daily practice and often ended up in lost time, depression and wicked fights with my spouse. I owe it to my health, children and grandchildren to back off. I have noticed that when I go days without alcohol, I sleep better, have more energy and definitely feel more alive. I have begun substituting the need to “numb” life with alcohol with exercise, meditation and seeking out alternative activities to enhance life (bird watching, reading). At this age, life became more complex: choosing to retire from a high-stress job, dealing with the after math of deployments while active duty, aging parents and estranged adult children. Life is so much more enjoyable and manageable without the alcohol. I love my friends dearly and am now taking my own LaCroix or mineral water to gatherings. Hydrating on non-alcohol beverages and enjoying a glass of wine with dinner seems to be working for now. I am guarded about tipping over the edge. As one ages, the alcohol really does metabolize differently and increases risks of falls, hypertension, irregular heart rate, etc. LIVE your LIFE!!

Binge drinking is so fun anytime! But you have to be a responsible adult. And be your best self all the time! I used to get drunk everyday, but I slowed down, because my body couldn’t keep up 🙂 Now I only do it 1 or 2 days on the weekend. Anti anxiety meds really rake the edge off of hangovers. But I rather not drink, it’s all or nothing, I can’t do the 2 drink max. Bring back prohibition for people with minuscule self discipline! lol


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