Threat to Aging in Place: Alcohol Replaces Purpose

Senior man drinking wine ageing in place

You take your pension in loneliness and alcohol…

~Billy Squier ” Everybody Wants You”


A tweet from Joseph Coughlin caught my attention recently: Boomers reaching older age? 2.8 M older adults in the US meet criteria for alcohol abuse and this number is expected to reach 5.7 M by 2020. My first thought was how tragic this is on so many levels; my second thought was, this is what happens when alcohol replaces purpose. Let’s unpack this…

Tragic Part

These numbers are most likely under-reported, my guess is they are much larger. Alcohol abuse is really suicide on the installment plan. The problem is ETOH doesn’t kill you acutely (unless you’re in an MVA)–it chips away a little bit at a time until there is an accumulative effect.

Here are a few of the accumulative effects:



-Cardiovascular Disease


-Nerve Damage



-Infectious Diseases


-High Blood Pressure

Not to mention the Relationship damage: The “Present-absence” (body is there but personality/soul/mind is absent) of the heavy drinker puts a toll on the others in the boomer’s life; especially the spouse–making the so-called Golden Years a living hell…

The Retired alcohol-abusing Boomer will soon find themselves a regular not at their favorite watering hole, but rather at the doctor’s office or emergency room (see frequent flyers). Heavy drinking leads to chronic disease; meaning we don’t cure it–only manage acute episodes over-and-over until the tragic end. A course of Self-destruction is sad–but burning up limited resources as you go, is unconscionable!

The opportunity cost in dealing with the co-morbidity factors associated with chronic alcohol abuse in such staggering numbers as represented by the baby boomer generation is cause for alarm. I have seen for example, how a single esophageal varices case can deplete an entire community of a certain type of blood over the course of an evening. That means possibly no blood for the accident victim later that night or the gunshot wound sustained by the police officer on duty. I have taken care of many patients with alcohol-caused diseases that eventually lead to brain damage and early institutionalization (A REAL THREAT TO AGING IN PLACE).

With baby boomers turning 65 at 10,000/day and many retiring, as a society we can’t afford 5.7 +million cases of “sick careers” the sheer volume will put a devastating burden on the “sick-care” industry. There must be a better way?

On Purpose

I think this Noble Prize Winner says it all:

We should ask ourselves this question: Since we are here and no one asked us if we wanted to be-what should we do about it? We should make the most of this difficult but extraordinary experience and strive to live in harmony with ourselves and our fellow travelers.  We should realize that most unhappiness stems from excessive apprehension and concern about ourselves when we would greatly benefit instead by investing all our thought and effort in confronting far more crucial problems. Most of the human population lives in tremendous misery and starvation, while a small minority enjoys not merely excessive comfort, but luxury. It is my hope that people will realize that it is not through the possession of material goods that one can find happiness in this world. Only by a deep involvement in the problems of the greater society can one achieve happiness or, at least, harmony with oneself.

~Rita Levi-Montalcini Italian Biologist and Noble Prize Winner


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