New Middle-Age Crisis: Drinking Over 50

A study found that binge drinking is prevalent among middle-aged adults.

August 16, 2009, 10:16 PM

Aug. 17, 2009— -- Binge drinking does not occur just among teenagers or college students. A recent study indicated that drinking large amounts of alcohol is now more prevalent among middle-aged adults than previously thought.

Twenty-three percent of men and 9 percent of women between 50 and 64 years old reported drinking at least five alcoholic beverages in the same day, in the previous month, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"This is not a teenage problem. This is not a college-level problem. This is a problem that is existing in today's boomer population," said Carol Colleran, author of "Aging and Addiction: Helping Older Adults Overcome Alcohol and Medication Dependence."

The study defines binge drinking as someone having five or more drinks during the same occasion within the past 30 days.

Although the study indicated there are more men who binge drink than women, the women are often more secretive about their drinking habits.

"They have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. They have the responsibility of aging parents, they have the responsibility of their children," Colleran explained. "Plus, they have their own relationship with their spouse."

Rachael Brownell knows from personal experience how true that is.

"You hit 35 and you are in the big leagues. For me, it meant that I had kids and mortgage and a big job and all of these things hit at the same time," Brownell said.

Brownell said she was isolated, stressed and felt like she "couldn't win", so she turned to drinking. For three years she drank more than two glasses of wine nearly every day. When she went on a walk with her children she said it often involved stopping at the local convenience store to stock up on wine.

"We would have kid birthday parties and neighborhood get-togethers and I seemed to be the one most interested in how much alcohol was there," Brownell said.

Rock Bottom

Brownell, a single parent with three children, said she finally hit rock bottom one afternoon at her child's school. She was hungover from drinking the night before.

"I was so sick that I had to run out of the room, and I spent the entire hour of the orientation in the little teeny tiny depressing elementary school bathroom on the floor. I was sick, and I just felt terrible. And that was really, to me, that was the beginning of the end," Brownell said.

There have been other recent examples of adult alcoholism in the news.

Diane Schuler , 36, was blamed for killing eight people, including herself, as she drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway July 26. Schuler had a blood alcohol content of .19, more than double the legal limit, according to a statement released by state attorney Janet Difiore citing a toxicology report by the Westchester County medical examiner.

Schuler's family has disputed the toxicology report, saying she was not a drinker, and that the accident must have been caused by a medical emergency of some sort.

"In your 40s or 50s ... all of a sudden they are looking at 'Wow, I thought I would have everything accomplished by this time,'" said Colleran. "But they find themselves 50 years of age and all of a sudden ... saying, 'Is this it? Is this all there is?' And they slip into more drinking."

Brownell, who has been sober for nearly two years, wrote the book "Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore."

"My message is, if you're out there and you're a parent and you're drinking and you feel ashamed, you're not alone," said Brownell.