Baby Boomers and Booze and Why the Older Generation Drinks so Much

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If you were born during the period 1946 to 1964, you are a Baby Boomer who is now probably in your 60s. If you like alcohol, then it follows that you could have experienced something massive during your conception, childhood and later maturing years.

If you think about the year 1946, it was a crucial time in global history, the baby boom that came after a terrible World War 2. In the USA, more than 2 million babies were born between 1950 and 1960, and their country entered the Cold War directly after World War 2.

Children were born into conditions of poverty, there was political and social instability and in China, children were born into an era of such a vast population increase that the Chinese government decreed the one-child policy law. It is interesting to note that this group reached puberty and maximum height years before other generations did!

Remember that during the 1960s, people were backlashing from the wars, experimenting with drugs, alcohol and freedom to be. The reforms and changes in society had an enormous impact on children and in family households, child abuse was common. In fact, in America in 1961, a Dr. Henry Kempe, a pediatric radiologist, and his associates coined the phrase “battered child syndrome” at a conference on the problem of child abuse.

Baby Boomers Today are Aged 55 to 75

Let’s now take a look at the baby boomers of today who are in between 55 to 75 years old or so: there is a lot of drinking and abuse of alcohol taking place. It is a fact that binge drinking amongst this older generation has increased and that baby boomers use alcohol more than other generations.

No one is really sure why so many older people are binge drinking but research is showing that this is causing a huge toll on western health systems as older people need more hospital and psychiatric care:

“… as the Baby Boom cohort moves into older adulthood, they are likely to use more alcohol than previous generations of older adults. Misuse and abuse of alcohol, and the combination of alcohol with the use of some medications (including benzodiazepines, sedatives, and opioid analgesics), can lead to negative health outcomes. With the size of the emerging older population and their comparatively higher acceptance of alcohol and drugs, there is a growing concern that there will be a substantial increase in the number of older adults at risk for alcohol misuse and abuse…”

The worst part about getting old is that body’s immune system can no longer fight off the effects of alcohol as well as it used to and older drinkers are experiencing terrible health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

According to research by Han et al, “Alcohol use among older adults is increasing in the US, including past-month binge alcohol use and AUD with increasing trends among females. Providers and policymakers need to be aware of these changes to address the increase of older adults with unhealthy drinking.”

Jane Experienced Childhood Trauma in the 1970s

Jane was born in 1969, just outside the baby boomer period and she remembers how her parents drank in the UK in those days: “Both my parents drank, so did our neighbors and generally the community in our village in Wales. We lived opposite the pub which was frequently visited. I remember going in the evenings in my pyjamas and sleeping under the tables or in the back of the car.”

She notes how life changed when her parents became the owners of a pub: “Parties were a big thing in our lives and we eventually moved back to our village and became the proprietors of the pub. This is when my life changed completely. My parents were working and socializing at odd hours and our once nurturing environment became an unhappy space especially for me.”

Jane is evidence that growing up in an unstable household with drinking parents does take its toll on children who can then also become drinkers: “Cleaning and stocking the bar on a Saturday was our job. I was 10 by then and had started stealing alcohol to share with friends in the village. I felt very alone and although I don’t think I realized it at the time, I drank to blot out this gaping hole that appeared in my life. I also started behaving badly and ended up being arrested and charged in court. It was terrifying that I got caught. I became an insecure child and I started getting picked on too. The pub job thankfully didn’t last and when I was 12, we moved to South Africa. Both my parents still drank heavily and daily and I again saw things i shouldn’t see involving my mother. My dad would hide all the alcohol away when she got very drunk…”

Many children like Jane grew up to be drinkers. So, why are baby boomers binge drinking so much, and more, every day? There are several reasons, compounded by the era into which they were born.

 Serenity Lane explains it like this:

The reasons are manifold….people are living – and staying social – longer than ever before. Since 70 is the new 50, alcohol plays a role as a social lubricant for the baby boomer generation – and this is true even for those living in assisted care communities. As the lifestyles of older generations change in other ways, post-retirement responsibility lessens, and they can become more withdrawn, lonely, and bored. This too can lead to alcohol addiction.

Another reason is the mindset that these kids grew up cultivating – that it is fine to just drink, smoke cannabis and drop out. It was the era of Woodstock, Janis Joplin and experimentation and the use of drugs ballooned – baby boomers abused “marijuana, heroin, prescription opioids and alcohol” according to an article in Behavioural Health Centres.

Trauma, Loneliness, Sickness, and Boredom all Fuel Drinking

Many Americans have become hooked on over-the-counter pain killers because they supposedly suffer from more chronic pain than ever before.

“From 1998 to 2008, the number of people being treated for opioid abuse increased by an astounding 400 percent.”

And binge drinking has risen too, also among women. Some findings report that the baby boomers’ abuse of alcohol and drugs can also be related to aging that goes hand in hand with loneliness, poverty, depression and too much free time, leading to drinking and therefore more health issues. This is also the era when partners die or friends get older and sicker and die.

Trish was a 1964 baby and while her dad did drink, he was not a nasty drunk. But Trish suffered major childhood traumas which she lays out in her Goodbye Letter to Alcohol:

“Alcohol became a part of my world when I was 17.  I was so young, and I fell under its control hard and fast.  I was good at hiding it, I liked it to be just the two of us, to isolate myself so I could be alone with it.  I would do anything to do that and I did.  I lied, stole, and behaved in ways that were so outside of myself that I didn’t recognise myself.  I just knew I had to find ways of being alone with enough booze to render myself unconscious…. There was no one to care that I was drinking myself to oblivion as often as possible.  No family, no friends.  I liked it like that.  I wanted it like that.  Why?  Pain, and lots of it.  Sexual abuse, parental neglect, my beloved, much older sister putting a bullet in my abuser (her partner) and ending up in jail for murder. Our mother, never able to nurture us for reasons I don’t understand, retreating further into herself.  My beloved father was long dead, when I was 7.  Not one person to help me, to ask me if I was alright.  I was alone with my pain well and truly.  I was 17, and my favourite thing to do was sit alone in hotel rooms (so I could have privacy) and drink.”

These are the realities that many drinkers and now ex-drinkers in their later years are dealing with. Trish has come through this period of her life remarkably well and her goals for this year are to continue her weight loss, get fit by joining her local gym, keep doing the work to enhance her alcohol-free life, and be two years sober in November!

Getting Better and Breaking the Cycle

Yvonne is another baby boomer child who remembers that her father was an alcoholic who stopped drinking when she was a child. Her mother had a fear of alcohol in her young years but started enjoying its numbing effects in her later life. So, Yvonne started drinking in her early twenties, always mindful of alcohol, however, some 25 years later, it had her. Looking back, she realises that she grew up with very low self-esteem and shame, as her family lost so much financially from her dad’s drinking.

So, how do we, the children of the baby boomers, deal with drinking? Many of us were trapped in the same spiral of drinking thanks to the effects of our parents’ drinking and now it is up to us to change this cycle, to get out of that history that made us who we are.

It is interesting that many of our generation drank even when their parents did NOT drink but it was peer pressure, advertising and more. During the 1990s, the power of the media took on a new glow and alcohol was portrayed as something glamorous and necessary. So many people started to try alcohol and then became trapped by her ‘glory’ but negative effects.

Lucy is testimony to this: “I started drinking more in my mid to late 20s as my husband (to be) drank more and we had more disposable income between us. I had big jobs, but really there was nothing that caused my drinking, it was just that it is addictive and my tolerance was high and we also had more friends that drank more.  Nightly drinking just became a habit and the hobbies waned. My goal is to continue on my path to enlightenment, to expand my learning, to do more crafts and art, to improve my health and well-being and to have a nice day (every day!)”

If you have recently stopped drinking, kudos to you! All that we can do is to continue the work, continue our lives of health and welfare, and also to continue to reach out to others less fortunate than ourselves and to assist them to recover.

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The 11 Year Fact

Did you know that the average dependent drinker will struggle alone for 11 years before reaching out for help?

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