Alcohol Use In Older People

Resources for Seniors
Some people develop a drinking problem later in life due to major changes such as the death of a loved one, moving to a new place or failing health.

Some people develop a drinking problem later in life due to major changes such as the death of a loved one, moving to a new place or failing health.

Anyone at any age can have a drinking problem, however, families, friends, and healthcare workers often overlook their concerns about older people drinking, according to The National Institute on Aging’s report Alcohol Use In Older People.

Sometimes trouble with alcohol in older people is mistaken for other conditions related to aging, for example, a problem with balance. But, how the body handles alcohol can change with age. You may have the same drinking habits, but your body has changed.

Alcohol may act differently in older people than in younger people. Some older people can feel “high” without increasing the amount of alcohol they drink. This “high” can make them more likely to have accidents, including falls and fractures, and car crashes.

Drinking too much alcohol over a long time can:

*Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage.

*Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and ulcers.

*Make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat—for example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.

*Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused—these symptoms could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Check out the video Problem Drinking in Older Adults from the National Institutes of Health.

Alcohol and Medicines

Many medicines—prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal remedies—can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Many older people take medications every day, making this a special worry. Before taking any medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can safely drink alcohol. Here are some examples of problems caused by mixing alcohol with some medicines:

*If you take aspirin and drink, your risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding is increased.

*When combined with alcohol, cold and allergy medicines (the label will say antihistamines) may make you feel very sleepy.

*Alcohol used with large doses of acetaminophen, a common painkiller, may cause liver damage.

*Some medicines, such as cough syrups and laxatives, have high alcohol content. If you drink at the same time, your alcohol level will go up.

*Alcohol used with some sleeping pills, pain pills, or anxiety/anti-depression medicine can be deadly.

When Does Drinking Become A Problem?

Some people have been heavy drinkers for many years. But, over time the same amount of alcohol packs a more powerful punch. Other people develop a drinking problem later in life. Sometimes this is a result of major life changes like death of dear friends or a loved one, moving to a new home, or failing health. These kinds of changes can cause loneliness, boredom, anxiety, or depression.

In fact, depression in older adults often goes along with drinking too much. Not everyone who drinks daily has a drinking problem. And, not all problem drinkers have to drink every day. You might want to get help if you, or a loved one, hides or lies about drinking, has more than seven drinks a week or more than three drinks in one day, or gets hurt or harms others when drinking.

Getting Help

*Tell your doctor.

*Talk to a trained counselor who knows about alcohol problems in older people.

*Find a support group for older people with alcohol problems.

*Check out a 12-step program, like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), that offers support to people who want to stop drinking.

*Locate an individual, family, or group therapy that works best for you.