The Second Half: Holiday excess or everyday addiction?

Editor’s note: “The Second Half” appears regularly in the Health section.

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

The lights are down, the tree is packed away, and we’re busy recovering from the excesses of the season. An inventory of my personal immoderations include eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods and not getting enough sleep—reasonably innocuous. Besides, key lime cheesecake translates to “fruit and dairy products”—healthy foods, both. I willingly sacrificed the extra carbs for that unbeatable taste sensation, rolling my eyes back into my head as I moan, “So good!

I repair the weeks of damage with a vigorous dietary and exercise plan, as well as a couple of nights on my regular eight-hour sleep schedule. I do, however, have full-color dreams about that damn cheesecake. This week, I can honestly say, “I’m back on track.”

There’s one guy I heard of who can’t claim the same: a while back, his excessive holiday drinking led to “a long fall off a short pier,” so to speak, and he did some serious damage to his noggin.

“He should be all right now that he’s out of the coma,” said one observer, “but his memory is pretty sketchy.” Duh…if that’s all the long-term damage he suffered, he’s one lucky dude.

A couple of years ago, I took a spill while loading a hayrack—yes, I’ve been told I shouldn’t be climbing on a loaded hayrack at my age, but that’s hindsight. Climbing on hay is a delightfully fragrant exercise, but I guess my Second-Half balance was not too good—that was in my pre-yoga period.

Anyway, after falling backward into the dirt, I was pretty confused about the date for a couple of hours. Scrambled as my brain was, I did get my memory back eventually… um, I think. I don’t know what I don’t know, other than I can’t remember the actual fall.

“Why didn’t you go to the hospital?!” pals yelled.

Let’s not get into the insurance issue here, but my answer was, “I already knew I bumped my head—why should I pay them to tell me to take it easy?” I lounged on the couch with ice bags applied to assorted body parts and took a couple of aspirin. I console myself with the fact that the accident occurred from hard work out in the fresh air, not from falling down drunk.

The holidays are known for indulging, and excessive drinking is an expected seasonal pleasure for many Second-Half folks. We toast out the old and welcome the new with champagne or other intoxicants designed to release our inhibitions and encourage good cheer. This is the time to bring out the good stuff, to eat, drink and drink some more until the goal of “be merry” is reached and surpassed. So what?

“At my age,” argued 70-something Bill, “I’ve earned the right to drink as much as I want, whenever I want. I’m not hurting anybody.”

Let’s not argue about the “not hurting anybody” part for a minute, and examine the issue of drinking “as much and whenever I want.” According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the need for substance abuse treatment for Americans older than 50 will double in the next decade.

Second-Half alcohol abusers can be divided into two categories:

1. Those who have been abusing alcohol for many years and are now senior citizens; and

2. The late-onset abusers whose problem drinking is triggered by life changes such as retirement, health concerns, reduced income and/or death of a loved one.

Like so many things that slow down in our Second Half, so does our ability to absorb and process alcohol. If you indulge while in the drinking company of 20-, 30- or 40-something youngsters, you may observe that they are pounding it down at a faster rate than you can—or would want to, even. This is just another area of our lives where we can’t keep up, metabolically speaking, as we age. I checked it out with some reliable resources—this is an excerpt from the article “Unhealthy Drinking Increasing Among Older Adults” (3.19.09):

“According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the American Geriatrics Society, people 65 or older are engaged in risky drinking if they have more than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks on a single day. But there are some who suggest that the single-occasion drink limit should be no more than two drinks and that women should drink even lower overall amounts than men…”

For the rest of the article and more, visit

Risks of drinking in our Second Half include an increased risk of falling, aggravating existing medical conditions, reducing our ability to function, and negative interactions with medications. And if there is an increase in alcohol consumption after an emotional blow, such as death of a loved one or diagnosis of a medical issue, it is likely that depression is involved. If that sounds like someone you love, get closer…they may need your help.

At a recent party, the host announced, “Hey, nobody has even cracked the booze—we’ve got plenty, folks. Help yourself to some holiday cheer!”

After a moment of silence, someone said: “Look around, Charlie. These geezers can’t drink anymore!” That cracked up the party-goers, who all had reasons—medical or personal—for abstaining. Those days of Mad Dog, Pabst and doobies are behind us, my friends.

So, put away the holiday trappings and resolve to have fun in this new year—without indulging in self-destructive behaviors.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Jan. 12-18, 2011 issue

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