What happens when you spend over half your life drinking? You grow up, become an adult, function as best you can, but the one constant in your life is alcohol. Getting sober later in life is a lot more common than we think and it often sticks longer. But is getting sober later in life different from getting sober in your 20’s or 30’s? So often we hear about how great it is for someone to get sober young. As someone who got sober at the age of 27 I can think of the many ways that made it easy and difficult. I have always searched for articles and blogs about getting sober at a young age and how I can relate. Now that I’ve read and written many of those myself, I started to think about what it would be like to enter sobriety later in life. There are some stark differences and unique struggles of getting sober at the age of 40 or later. To some it might be more difficult and to others it’s easier to leave the booze behind once you’ve been to all the parties. Let’s take a look at the struggles of getting sober later in life.
Chances are if you’ve been drinking for the majority of your life and you’re still alive, you’ve found some way to manage your life. Later in life you generally find your routine, stick to your schedule, and know what you like and what you don’t like. This can make it difficult to find the motivation to change. A lot of us feel stuck in our addictions and the longer they last the more a part of our lives and personality they become. Unless there’s a tragedy or other circumstance that requires you to get sober, your motivation might be low since you’ve made it so far in life without sobriety. If you’re starting sobriety at a later age, you might have to search for your motivation.
Later in life, chances are you’ll be established with a house, a job, and maybe even a marriage and children. You will probably have many more responsibilities than your average 20-year-old. These might include raising kids, paying a mortgage, being a CEO, or even taking care of a parent or grandparent. Having these adult responsibilities can make it difficult to leave your life to attend addiction treatment or even AA meetings. Getting sober after 40 might be complicated because leaving your life can get tricky.
As we become older, our traditions and habits become deeply embedded in our everyday lives. This is true for nail-biting, thumb-sucking, and even addiction. If you’ve been using alcohol as a coping mechanism for your entire life and are used to drinking on good days and bad, and during every chapter of your life, it’s going to be harder to quit. The later in life you decide to get sober, the harder it may be if you are stuck in years-long traditions of drinking.
As a woman, getting sober later in life can be complicated by menopause. With your hormones out of whack, emotions are running high and can make getting sober more difficult. Menopause can cause insomnia, hot flashes, mood swings, depression, irritability, headaches, joint pain, and a racing heart. You may be tempted to alleviate these symptoms with a drink. Another factor unique to parents, especially women, is mom-guilt. Feeling like you haven’t been there to support your child in an appropriate way can eat away at your self-confidence and cause you to experience guilt and shame. If these symptoms and feelings are present while you’re trying to get sober, it could make your journey a little harder.
As you get older you may begin to notice you tolerate less and you yearn to figure out what you’re doing with your life. You might be less concerned with what others think when you reach the midlife point of your life and want to partake in a serious self-evaluation. Drinking at a younger age can be justified and chalked up to socializing, sowing your wild oats, and a hiccup in life. As you become older, a midlife crisis might shake up how you feel about spending your life sober or drunk and it can be the catalyst for change.
This isn’t so much a struggle; actually it can be an advantage. There comes a point in every drinker’s life when they feel like they’ve been to every party and every nightclub. The party scene becomes redundant and there isn’t much that you haven’t already done or any drink you haven’t drunk. This can be an advantage of getting sober at a later age because you don’t feel like you’re going to miss much. You might not experience FOMO (fear of missing out). You might be able to walk away from the party scene because you’ve already been in it for so many years.
On the flip side, as an older person it might be harder to just suddenly change your social surroundings and environment. If you have a family or close group of friends that drink with you a lot, you might find it difficult to just break off contact or friendships while getting sober. When you’re younger it’s a normal phenomenon for some friendships to fade or to find new ones if your interests change. If you spent your entire adult life hanging out with the same friends, it might be difficult to take a step back. On the other hand, if they have been your friends for life, they should understand if you don’t want to make an appearance at wine night anymore.
When I was a 20-something who frequented the bar scene I vowed that I would never end up as a 50-year-old at the bar. I thought that was somehow more embarrassing than being a blacked-out 27-year-old there. But as you grow older, it might be easier to try sobriety when your peers who are the same age as you don’t go out and drink as much. As people age, they tend to be caught up in responsibilities like children, families, and work and have less time to socialize, drink, or nurse hangovers. If your drinking has been out of control, it might be easier to quit and not look back when your peers aren’t drinking either.
As you might know by now, addiction can be deeply associated with shame and guilt. These feelings often drive our drinking and using habits and are something we must heal from once we get sober. If we drink for years, these feelings might become embedded in our souls. The longer we drink, the more shame we feel, and the older we get the harder it becomes to break through this cycle. As time goes on we often experience more situations where shame can find its way in, such as missed responsibilities with children and family, dangerous sexual encounters, driving under the influence, getting in trouble with the law, or making mistakes we feel cannot be repaired. When this shame runs deep it can be much harder to work through it and get sober.
All the people I’ve spoken with who found sobriety after 40 told me the same thing: they felt like they had an advantage because of their age-related wisdom. When you’re young you frequently act on impulse, out of emotion, and because you feel invincible. As you age you come to realize that being less reactive works to your advantage, you become familiar with how to process your emotions, and gain the wisdom that comes with life experience and age. Wisdom can help you defy the odds against addiction. It might help you say “enough is enough.”
There’s nothing wrong with getting sober at the age of 40 or later; in fact, you should be proud. It doesn’t matter at what age you’ve entered recovery, as long as you’re happy, healthy, and drug-and-alcohol-free. Just because each age range comes with its own unique struggles doesn’t mean sobriety is impossible. Knowing and becoming aware of these struggles may give you the knowledge you need to finally leave alcohol behind once and for all.
The most wonderful part about getting sober later in life is that you still get to live your best life. It’s never too late and you’re never too old. Sobriety is within reach for anyone whether you’re 19 or 90.
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