An older couple embracing and smiling while enjoying an outdoor meal with the family in a courtyard.

3 Ways too Much Alcohol Can Impact Your Retirement

After decades of hard work, it’s common to raise a glass and toast to a successful career and a relaxing retirement.  However, some retirees have a difficult time putting the glass down.

Alcohol use among older adults is increasing, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), with approximately 20% of adults aged 60–64 and around 10% over age 65 reporting current binge drinking.

The NIAAA says that binge drinking corresponds to a typical male consuming five or more drinks, or a female consuming four or more drinks, in about two hours. And heavy alcohol use is defined as:

  • For men, consuming five or more drinks on any day or 15 or more per week
  • For women, consuming four or more on any day or eight or more drinks per week

There are several reasons why some people drink more in retirement. With the elimination of work, many retirees feel loss of structure, purpose, identity and social support. Other retirees may feel depression, marital stress or financial stress. Unfortunately, some retirees turn to increased alcohol consumption to cope with these challenges.

Check out our 4 Tips to Help You Emotionally Prepare for Retirement.

In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month, let’s explore how alcohol can negatively affect someone’s retirement, how much alcohol is safe, and what you should do if you need help.

How can too Much Alcohol Impact Retirement?

If alcohol consumption goes unchecked, it can impact nearly every facet of a retiree’s life. Let’s consider three major impacts of too much alcohol:

  1. Retiree Health
    According to the NIAAA, aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger, which puts them at higher risk for falls, car crashes and other injuries.Heavy drinking can also exacerbate common health problems among older adults, including diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, osteoporosis, memory problems and mood disorders.Alcohol may also interact badly with many prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. In some cases, the interactions can be dangerous or even deadly.
  2. Retiree Relationships
    For some people, alcohol becomes more important than even their most cherished relationships. It can turn someone into an entirely different person, making them withdrawn, irritable or even aggressive. It can cause dishonesty, secrecy, unreliability and untrustworthiness. In romantic relationships, alcohol can also cause sexual dysfunction. These are among the many reasons why too much alcohol can lead to estranged marriages, family conflict and lost friendships in retirement.
  3. Retiree Finances
    The NIAAA’s alcohol spending calculator is a helpful tool for determining the financial impact of a daily drinking habit. For example, let’s say someone drinks six beers each day that cost $17 for a 12 pack. That person would be spending around $257.00 a month or $3,079.00 a year on beer alone. That doesn’t count what they may spend on wine, liquor and drinks purchased at bars and restaurants.The Motley Fool reports that 80% of Americans 60 and older are financially struggling or in danger of financial security. For a retiree on a fixed income, heavy drinking can quickly consume their nest egg and put them at risk of a savings shortfall.

Get 4 Tips to Handle Cost of Living (COLA) Increases in Retirement.

How Much Alcohol is Safe for Older Adults?

The NIAAA shares that to help older adults minimize risks associated with drinking, they can choose not to drink or limit intakes to two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less a day for women.

Certain older adults should avoid alcohol completely if they:

  • Plan to drive or operate machinery
  • Plan to participate in an activity that requires skill, coordination and alertness
  • Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Have a medical condition that can be worsened by alcohol
  • Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount they drink

Talk to your doctor about what a safe amount of alcohol is for you.

Getting Help for Alcohol

If you’re concerned about your drinking habits, don’t hesitate to seek help. There are a variety of resources available, including support groups, counseling and treatment programs. Talk to your doctor. You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline.

Want more? Check out these 6 Healthy Habits of Super Agers.