Read This Before Those Holiday Toasts

The holidays are about friends, family, good food and fellowship. And for many people, “making spirits bright” involves spirits of a different kind! We pair our holiday dishes with fancy wines, gather around the fireplace for hot buttered rum, and of course there are those champagne toasts as we sing “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

About 75 percent of Americans consume alcohol, and some studies show that drinking in moderation could offer some health benefits. But older adults, especially, should know about the dangers of overconsumption.

As we grow older, our bodies process certain substances differently — and that includes alcohol. Each drink can cause a higher blood alcohol concentration than it did when we were younger, so it takes a lot less for us to feel the effects. Even a single drink may make it unsafe to drive, and could raise our risk of falling.

Complicating the situation, alcohol interacts dangerously with a number of common medications seniors take. According to the National Institutes of Health, 78 percent of American seniors take medications that can interact with alcohol — everything from aspirin to sleep medications. That includes many herbal and nonprescription drugs, as well.

Over time, alcohol can have a very bad effect on many health conditions. You probably know it’s bad for the liver, and that’s just the start. Alcohol raises the risk of diabetes, stroke, hypertension and osteoporosis, fall injuries, digestive diseases and some cancers. Medical researchers also sound the alarm that drinking too much can damage the brain and cause thinking and memory problems.

If you or an older loved one is drinking to much and is having trouble cutting back, it’s important to report this to the doctor and seek help.

But what about those holiday toasts?

Back to the subject at hand! Even if you don’t drink very much during the year, holiday gatherings and parties offer pitfalls. “It’s a special occasion,” you might think as you reach for that second or third glass of champagne. But here are three things to remember:

Alcohol’s effects begin quickly. Most of us know the effects of drinking way too much: slurred speech, loss of balance, and even passing out and experiencing “blackouts,” the temporary amnesia that means we won’t remember the lampshade-on-the-head incident when we wake up in the morning. Yet even before we finish the very first drink, alcohol is making its way to our brain, and our thinking and judgment are already impaired.

The effects last for hours after the last drink. How often do you hear someone say, “Well, I better make this the last one so I can sober up and drive home”? In fact, it can take hours for the alcohol in our stomach and intestine to finish entering the bloodstream. So we’ll probably feel impaired judgment, sleepiness, loss of coordination and other effects all the more during the hours after we stop drinking for the evening.

Coffee doesn’t help. Despite the common belief, coffee doesn’t speed up recovery from the effects of alcohol. The caffeine may help with drowsiness, but it has no effect on coordination or decision-making. What can help our bodies metabolize alcohol and return to normal? One thing: time.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that traffic fatalities and other injuries are most common during the holidays, and they offer these tips for staying safe:

  • Pace yourself. Know what constitutes a standard drink and have no more than one per hour — and no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 for women per day.
  • Have “drink spacers” — make every other drink a nonalcoholic one.
  • Make plans to get home safely. Remember that a designated driver is someone who hasn’t had any alcohol, not simply the person in your group who drank the least.

So, before heading out for those parties, plan to drink sensibly when you get there — or not at all. This will keep you safe, and also will prevent that “traditional” New Year’s Day hangover!

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise; tips from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Find information about older adults and alcohol here.

Categories: Health & Safety