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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

February 2015

 

By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

Alcohol Dry January

DID YOU VOW TO CUT DOWN ON YOUR DRINKING OR GO DRY? You were not alone!

January 31 marked the end of Dry January, the month for going dry, when many of us resolved to give up our daily tipples of wine or beer or spirits. Or at least, cut down to the recommended one or two units a day.

How did you do? You weren’t alone. One couple I know in their mid- fifties were doing fine until the 14th of January when they went out to dinner at a top Michelin- starred restaurant. They were going to go totally dry. Listed next to each course was a specially chosen wine. Because it was a celebratory occasion they decided they would have just one glass each. He chose a red and she a white. Sadly, though, the food took so long to be served, an hour and a half, he succumbed to a second and then a third while they waited and she to a second and a half.

How are they doing now? The plan is to not drink at all during the week when getting home from work is a trigger, but just on weekends and then just two units.

Serious Drinking Among Women on the Increase

A recent study by the government–funded Drinkaware campaign found that one in five adults want to cut back on their drinking. Further research revealed that more and more women were becoming concerned and found that 43% of those women wanted to drink less, a figure that rose to 83% among women who were already drinking over the recommended guidelines.

“Serious drinking,” says Liz Hodgkinson, a columnist for The Telegraph, was once only for men – but somewhere along the line women caught up. Then overtook them. Along with our new, independent, social, self-sufficient lifestyles came the freeing fact that we could drink just like the men do.”

“Today we drink more than our mothers and grandmothers, and in a different way, too. Alcohol is our modern feminist equivalent of a nice cup of cocoa in the evenings, or a Horlicks before bed.”

The figures have been showing for some years that younger people are rejecting the alcohol binge behaviours of their parents, while the drinking habits of older women, especially those in managerial or professional jobs, are a cause for concern. Those working in male-dominated environments have an increased risk of alcohol disorders.

“Having got used to the crutch of alcohol during our working lives, our drinking really takes off when we retire,” says Liz, who is in her 70s. “The truth is that I, along with most of my sixty-plus women friends, never let a day go by without at least half a bottle of wine to improve it. These days we are not so much ladies who lunch, as ladies who lurch.”

Help for Worried Drinkers

A new wave of clubs and websites is springing up to support the growing numbers of women who are worried about their alcohol intake. Former politician and business woman, Laura Willoughby, has just opened Club Soda to offer support to anyone, male or female , who wants to give up or cut back on their alcohol intake and is organising countrywide events to encourage people to socialise without alcohol. “I decided to give up three years ago,” says Laura. “I didn’t drink every day but when I started I couldn’t stop.”

How do you reduce your alcohol consumption? Amongst all the regimes out there, I like best the advice I recently discovered quite by chance from an expert.

ADVICE FROM A PASSENGER ON A TRAIN

On a train recently coming back from Taunton to London, I sat opposite a friendly looking gentleman. We exchanged pleasantries, as one does, or does not. I discovered he was Professor Robert West, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, an expert on addiction, an author of hundreds of research papers on smoking and alcohol addiction.

I told him I was working on a LaterLife column about the growing number of over 50s who were concerned about their drinking. And want to cut down. And he said, if I agreed, he would be happy to set out for LaterLife readers what the research tells us:

“Set a Goal!

When it comes to reducing alcohol consumption, the first thing is to set a goal that you think will work for you – one that you truly want to stick to. If you think you have to go completely ‘dry’ - make that your goal. If you want to limit yourself to two glasses of wine a day (and think you can) then make that your goal.

Monitor Your Drinking

The second thing is to closely monitor your drinking, If you are not drinking at all that should be pretty easy, but mostly you will be drinking a bit , in which case it can be quite hard. You need to know how things are going in relation to your goal. If your goal is to have no more than 14 medium sized glasses of wine a week then keep a tally. Or your goal might be to have no more than half a bottle of wine a night – that is easy to check. Or you might set a goal of two alcohol-free days a week – again this is easy to monitor.

This ‘goal setting’ and ‘self-monitoring’ is the kernel of most deliberate attempts at behaviour change. Some people do pretty well with this. With something like alcohol, the job is never done though; just like weight control you have to keep paying attention and working at it. It doesn’t have to be a big deal – just something you incorporate into your life like brushing your teeth.

If It Is Not Working

If it is not working, then you need to go a bit further. It is possible that you need to set a different goal. For example, you may be trying to limit yourself to two glasses of wine or beer a night but it is not working out. You may be someone for whom it is all or nothing. So being completely dry, or being dry several days a week may be a better goal. Or it may be that you are just too ‘stimulus driven’; you are fine when at home but the moment you are out with your friends, all your good intentions go to pot. In that event, you are going to have to come up with a specific plan to deal with this.

There Are Plenty of Options

There are plenty of options: substitute a non-alcoholic drink for when you reach your limit; start on a non-alcoholic drink until a designated time; limit how much time you spend in the bar; sip your drink; do not allow refills until your glass is empty... these may sound a bit lame but they may work if you give them a chance.

And remember, you’re doing this because you want to or need to. And if one thing doesn’t work then try something else. And when that stops working try something else. If necessary, make restricting your drinking a kind of hobby rather than a chore! That way you will get pleasure from your successes and be motivated by your failures.

All of this self help assumes you are not alcohol dependent. That is a whole different ball game and requires professional help and support.”

It Is Never Too Late

It is never too late. I know one 84-year-old, alcohol dependent, who after shattering her shoulder when she tripped on the pavement, upped her usual 5 double scotches a day to 8 to 10 to quell the intense pain. But tests soon revealed serious damage to her liver.

With medication assisted treatment alongside psychosocial interventions she is now doing well on two singles a day and on some days, none at all. It’s been hard but the benefits have been worth it. She has a healthy liver, a persistent gastro irritation has disappeared, her head is clear and she has lost much needed weight.

It was only when she was finally managing her drink, did she realise that she had been drinking the equivalent of 425,000 extra calories a year.

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