As the festive season gets into full swing, it's a good time to have a look at your drinking and make sure your habits are healthy. Dr Tony Rao, Consultant in Older People’s Mental Health, has written a guest blog looking at five things to consider when you are offered that second glass of your favourite tipple. 

Getting older shouldn’t mean that you enjoy yourself any less over the festive season. This should be a time to relax and catch up with family and friends – and that often happens over a drink.

But the proportion of people aged 65 and over among alcohol related hospital admissions has nearly doubled over the past five years. As the festive season starts and you’re likely to be drinking more than usual, it’s a good time to have a look at your drinking and make sure your habits are healthy. Here are five things to consider when you are offered (or offer yourself) that second glass of your favourite tipple.

Get in the know

Do you know about the new drinking guidelines? These come from the UK’s top doctors, the Chief Medical Officers, and recommend that you drink no more than seven pints of normal strength beer or a bottle of wine per week. You should try and space out your drinking over at least four days, and ideally have three drink-free days too.

Interestingly, people aged between 55 and 74 are the only group in the UK in which the proportion drinking more than the guidelines recommend has increased over the past five years.

The new drinking guidelines might seem like an edict from your headteacher, with an accompanying finger wag and disapproving look. But the guidelines are just that – guidelines. They’re there to help you make decisions about your drinking, and they’re there for a reason.

Alcohol is linked to over 60 medical conditions, including liver disease, depression and six types of cancer. Keeping within the guidelines will reduce the risk of you developing health problems from drinking.

Your health comes first

You don’t have to drink over a long period of time for alcohol to cause health problems. “Holiday heart syndrome” can result from drinking more than you would normally do and leads to an irregular heartbeat. This is more likely to happen if you don’t keep within the drinking guidelines. Don’t forget that your brain and liver can also be affected by large amounts of alcohol drunk over a short space of time.

Slow and steady

If you are going to drink, try and do this over hours rather than minutes. Try to sip and not gulp. Try not to drink on an empty stomach, as this speeds up how quickly alcohol gets into your bloodstream. You could also try and alternate an alcoholic with a non-alcoholic drink.

The wrong mix

Be careful if you take medication that could interact with alcohol. You might need to ask your pharmacist or your GP for further advice. If you have long-term health problems, you should consider drinking at levels below the current guidelines, or maybe even not at all.

A New Year’s Resolution

Going dry for January may seem like an immense challenge, but it’s one that more and more older people are doing every year. The Dry January team are there to offer advice on getting through the month without the booze.

Dry January gives you time to reflect on your drinking, and you might even feel fitter and healthier as a result. If you never give your body a break, you won’t know what affect booze is having!

Here’s to your good health!

Sign up for Dry January here.