Is It Ok To Get Drunk Over 40?
woman & home South Africa|February 2020
Sharing a glass can be an irresistible bonding experience. But, if you’re tempted to have one too many cocktails when you’re socialising, writer Louise Court asks if could be time to sober up?

Life has changed. When we were in our teens and twenties, how often did we watch our moms go out with a group of girlfriends and come home a little worse for wear? It just didn’t happen.

I am not a particularly heavy drinker and I don’t get out-of-control drunk, but I can’t say my fifties have been immune to me arriving home and struggling to get my key in the front door. Recently a friend dropped by one Sunday afternoon. After several bottles of wine we turned the kitchen into a dance floor, resulting in a sprained ankle for her, hysterical laughter from me, and my 20-year old son looking on, horrified. And I won’t even mention the singing.

If I think back to my mom, much of her socialising was based on coffee mornings, cake, and hobbies like flower arranging or playing cards. As anybody who knows me will confirm, while I enjoy copious amounts of coffee and cake, the flower-arranging gene passed me by, and I enjoy meeting friends for a drink. I can happily remain alcohol-free for weeks, even months, but if I have a glass it can easily become a bottle.

If I kept a drink diary, I fear the facts would have medics branding me a binge drinker. Just writing that down is quite a sobering experience. But I’m not alone. It has become part of our everyday culture, with many women drinking more than recommended. According to a 2015 UK survey, ‘empty nester’ moms were at the forefront of middle-aged drinking, with 28% of women over 45 admitting they drink as much as or more than their grown-up children. As they don’t get drunk, they often don’t see it as a problem. Yet every glass of wine or draft glass of beer over the recommended limit will cut half an hour from the expected lifespan of a 40-year-old.* And, alarmingly, according to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there’s been a marked increase in the number of women over 40 attending AA meetings.

Think of Mother’s Day – in the past, gift suggestions included chocolates, perfume and flowers. Now bottles of​ bubbly, craft gin and wine make up a huge part of multimillion-rand Mother’s Day marketing campaigns. We all smile at birthday cards and signs with slogans like ‘It’s not a hangover, it’s wine flu’; ‘This house runs on love, laughter and Champagne’; or ‘One Prosecco, two Prosecco, three Prosecco, floor’. These are gifted to loved ones affectionately without any stigma or insult intended.

But when does all this stop being a joke and turn into something more serious? Even if you don’t have a reliance on booze, the fact is there’s a reason we’re told not to exceed 14 units a week, in the same way we know it’s not healthy for us to light up a cigarette.

There is a suggestion that middle-aged women’s drinking patterns are a spillover from the ‘one of the guys’ culture of the ’80s and ’90s. We have simply taken those habits into midlife. The trend is also attributed to many more women having professional careers, with drinks after work seen as the norm. Even if you are no longer leading that office-based lifestyle, you become accustomed to knocking back a few glasses in the evening as you help your kids with their homework, prepare the evening meal, or relax watching TV.

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