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More female baby boomers are becoming alcoholics after retirement

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Over the past several years, I have become acutely aware of a popular persona I like to call The Wine Lady or The Wine Mom. It’s a whole “I’m so bad, I’m drinking a bottle of wine with my girlfriends on a Tuesday night, my other car is a wine!” phenomenon that shows up on everything from greeting cards, pajamas and kitchen towels to memes and YouTube videos like this one:

“I’m not opposed to drinking wine in the bath. Not opposed to drinking wine in the shower. not opposed to drinking wine on the toilet.”

And while it’s supposed to be funny, it’s actually reflective of a bigger problem:

Research shows that more and more American women are admitting to drinking problems and, in turn, developing chronic liver disease and cirrhosis at a higher rate than ever before. More specifically, older women in the baby boomer generation, ages 55 to 75.

Andrea Arany-Kovacs is a CDP, chemical dependency professional, at Residence XII, a substance abuse treatment center for women in Kirkland. She says they’ve seen an uptick of women coming in a few years after retirement.

“What I’m finding is the women are reporting loss of purpose. So now they’re retired, they’re maybe empty nesters or they’ve lost a spouse. They might have some financial stress and a lot of time on their hands and nobody to report to,” Arany-Kovacs said. “It’s really easy to hide alcohol consumption when you’re not showing up to work and you’re not reporting to anybody.”

And what kind of alcohol are they abusing?

“It’s a wine thing. It is very much a wine thing. It’s glamorous, it’s beautiful, it’s pretty. There are so many different options and it’s available everywhere. Coffee shops now are serving wine. They’re having tastings, happy hour at the grocery store now. So it’s very much focused around wine.”

The idea is, if they’re not drinking hard alcohol, it’s not a problem. It’s just a glass of wine. Arany-Kovacs says the wine memes and the wine humor about needing to drink a bottle after a long day with the kids is normalizing binge drinking.

Kristy, 63, last name confidential, has been sober for five years. She only started drinking heavily after she retired.

“Part of my issue was not only not knowing what to do with myself, but I realized my identity was wrapped up in my work environment. So I lost myself. Part of it was menopause, it started with anxiety. My doctor had put me on some anxiety medicine and I needed to go on a higher dose. Rather than taking a higher dose, I started having a drink to having a bigger drink to having a giant drink with a splash of juice in it to drinking from the bottle. It progressed in a relatively short period of time and it was just a matter of months [before] I was drinking around the clock.”

Kristy says her sobriety success comes from staying highly involved in the sober community at Residence XII. She attends meetings, volunteers and helps other women going through the program. It gives her purpose. The treatment center even has a “50 and Better” group where they cover topics like finding purpose after retirement and creating a recovery community. Loneliness is a big reason for drinking in all demographics, especially for baby boomers.

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