Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ugly Middle Aged Drinkers

“To alcohol... The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.”

Homer Simpson, TV star and middle-age icon.

I have always thought that Homer’s profoundly simple view of the world was the result of a sort of post-modern Buddha-like trance brought on by sitting spread legged on the couch, staring at baseball and taking deep swigs of beer. (Instead of sitting in the woods in the lotus position, murmuring guttural mantras and taking deep breaths of air.) The result is similar: Homer goes into a profound stupor, the Buddha into a profound calmness. It there much difference?

Of course there is! And even worse, according to a recent study, Homer’s trance-like state may the result of his age. The new study shows older people are less likely to realize how alcohol is affecting them. “Drinking seems to impair older people more than their younger drinking buddies. Also, older people are less likely to realize how the alcohol is affecting them”.

As a bartender friend of mine at a popular local watering hole for middle age folks said, “The hard part about my job is figuring out who is drunk and who is just stupid.”

The study was based on research with 42 older participants between the ages of 50 and 74 and 26 younger participants between the ages of 25 and 35. Although peak breath-alcohol measures were similar between the older and younger groups of drinkers, older participants who had received alcohol took longer to complete a simple test than the younger participants did.

According to the study: ‘The performance age gap did not happen with non-drinkers. A difference wasn't seen between the older participants and younger participants who had consumed non-alcoholic beverages. (However, all of the non-drinking participants in the study reported immense boredom in their lives and displayed interesting other addictions such as obscene chocolate sundays, reality TV and model trains)

Also, older drinkers were less likely to realize they were impaired at the testing 25 minutes after alcohol consumption. That can be dangerous, as older drinkers may think they are fine to drive when they are not.

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools” said Ernest Hemmingway, a famous middle-aged writer/drinker.

He was referring to how often drinking is a social occasion, and according to the same study, consumption among older adults is likely to become a larger public health issue for this very reason.

More than half of adults over the age of 55 drink in social settings, and the percentage of the population that is older is projected to increase dramatically over the next couple of decades. By 2030, one-in-five U.S. residents will be over the age of 65.

I can tell you this from experience. Do not ride a motorcycle or bicycle in areas of dense retirement populations like exist in Florida. You will be in mortal danger.

Other than the fact that we middle-agers can’t handle our booze, we also are the age where we are most likely to have teenagers who could be experimenting with drinking. Since we are smarter than them and can handle alcohol better than them (not), our generation sometimes hypocritically try to stop them from drinking altogether.

As another sage alcoholic middle-ager Hunter S. Thompson once said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they always worked for me.

Wrong! Yet another new study found that : “Most importantly, set a good example and moderate your own drinking. Your children will likely adopt drinking habits similar to your own. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not an effective stance.”

This same study says that if you do drink, you should teach your children to drink at a fairly young age, so that when they start having access to it socially, they will know how to handle it. In this way they “ will be able to pass up temptation at teen parties. You hope that they will view getting drunk, or other drug use, as foolish rather than as interesting or sophisticated.

Let’s go back to Homer Simpson’s parenting methods, which have been criticized by many. He regularly makes a fool out of himself in front of his children. How many of our own friends have we seen doing this after too much to drink? The question is whether Bart and Lisa will realize their Dad is making a fool out of himself and turn out differently. And will our own children benefit or be hurt by witnessing the antics of drunken parents? I’m betting that the parents who conduct themselves responsibly and demonstrate the right way to drink will have better luck.

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