Q: I noticed that I started drinking alcohol more during this past year and I am worried it is too much. What are some tips on how I can cut back on my drinking?

A:  Many people increased their alcohol intake during the pandemic to cope with the anxiety, stress and isolation that they felt. While studies show that some older adults who only drank socially reduced their alcohol intake when the social events were stopped, others increased and used it as a way to relax and ease pandemic fears.

The pandemic was challenging for everyone, and especially for older adults and people with chronic health conditions. Most likely your social time, activities, exercise, and ability to maintain regular errands and business was changed suddenly. You may have found yourself enjoying an extra drink to take the edge off and little by little that grew until you no longer felt comfortable with your intake. Alcohol use is often turned to for stress relief, but it can also lead to disruption in sleep, falls and other accidents and injuries.

The fact that you have recognized your increased drinking and want to make a change is the best first step. Talking about it with friends and family can help and even keep you accountable to the changes you wish to make. Write down your habits, when and how much you drink, so you know where you are starting.

It is important to recognize that you may be using alcohol as a coping technique. When you reduce your alcohol intake, you should add in other techniques to help your mood. This may include exercise, outdoor walks, social times with friends that do not include drinking, starting new volunteer work, or including meditation in your day.

One proven technique to cut back on your drinking is to use precommitment. This means you commit to your goals at the beginning of each week. Decide on a set number of drinks you will limit yourself to per day and select days to take off from drinking completely. Write these goals down and post them on your refrigerator to remind you or tell a friend to help hold you accountable.

Increase your social support. You may have friends who will be receptive to your goals and can help keep you on track. Seek them out and plan to check in weekly on your goals. You can offer to support them in their goals, too, even if their goals are not centered on alcohol.

Another tip is to change your routine so that it does not trigger alcohol use. If you always drink in the evening after dinner, then consider setting up an activity during this time or using it for exercise. Sometimes people are drinking out of habit and the urge will subside if you change your location or activity.

If you find it difficult to cut back, or if you are drinking and taking other medications or drugs at the same time, then you should reach out for professional help. A third of people with alcohol use disorders develop them later in life, after the age of 50. It is common for this to develop as a response to a stressful life event, and the pandemic certainly has been a stressful event.

Your primary doctor is a good place to start to assess your drinking and provide referrals. There are support groups and recovery groups like Alcoholic Anonymous, counseling, and even medications to help.

The pandemic has been a disruptive and stressful event that can trigger new behaviors in a search to ease stress even when they are not healthy. You have done the important first step in recognizing a behavior you wish to change. Set your goals and track your progress. If that does not get you to your goals then reach out, talk to someone, and ask for help.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org

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