Last Updated: February 16, 2023
While we tend to associate alcohol misuse with younger age groups, older adults can also live with alcoholism, which is diagnostically labeled by the politically correct term, alcohol use disorder (AUD). In fact, it appears that alcohol misuse is a growing concern in the elderly.
Alcoholism Is on the Rise With Seniors
Addiction may be more common in some age groups than others. Still, it can affect people of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses. Between 2001 and 2013, there was a 107% increase in AUD amongst adults 65 years of age and older. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the signs of elderly alcohol misuse, as it can sometimes be hard to spot. Why? It’s difficult to recognize alcohol misuse in older adults because signs of aging can hide some signs of alcohol misuse.
American Family Physician shares some warning signs of AUD to look out for in older adults. If you suspect an alcohol problem with a loved older one, keep an eye out for:
- Declines in cognitive functioning
- Failing to attend medical appointments or adhere to recommended treatments
- Poorly controlled high blood pressure
- Repeated falls or accidents
- Stomach problems
- Repeated trips to the emergency department
- Failing to care for self
- Being estranged from family
Some of these signs may indicate other medical or mental health issues that need attention. However, while these symptoms and signs can indicate other issues, alcohol use should not be ruled out without further investigation, especially in people with a history of alcohol-related problems.
Because many people feel older adults should be given more leeway, they often ignore excessive drinking. They think it is cute that Grandma drinks too much wine. They joke that Uncle Bob is old and has earned the right to overindulge. However, simply reaching a certain age does not make alcohol misuse okay, and in fact, alcohol consumption can be more dangerous for older adults, especially in large quantities.
How Alcohol Impacts the Elderly
Adults may develop multiple issues as they age. The risk of depression can increase. General pain and poor well-being can become more severe. Some older adults turn to alcohol to compensate. They may have real issues that need attention, but alcohol is not the answer.
Older adults have additional risks when it comes to heavy drinking and AUD. Many medications that they are taking can have negative interactions with alcohol. The use of alcohol can increase the severity of some conditions that otherwise could be manageable. In addition, older adults are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, placing them at a higher risk of alcohol-related problems.
Because of changes to the body that occur with aging and specific risk factors in the elderly, alcohol misuse may negatively affect older adults in the following ways:
- By impairing their balance and increasing the risk of falls, which can lead to broken bones due to older adults having thinner bones compared to younger people
- By increasing the risk of serious car accidents, which are more likely in older adults
- By contributing to or worsening physical health problems that are more likely in older age, including cancer, liver damage, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers and memory problems
Interactions With Medications
A significant risk among older adults who drink is the possibility for alcohol to interact with the medications they are taking. Given the increased risk of medical problems later in life and slower metabolism, older adults may face some of the following risks related to the interaction between alcohol and medications:
- Higher risk of intestinal bleeding if drinking while taking aspirin
- Extreme sedation when combining alcohol consumption with cold medications like antihistamines
- Liver damage from the combination of alcohol and acetaminophen taken to manage pain
- Higher-than-intended alcohol consumption from drinking while taking medications that also include alcohol, such as cough syrups and laxatives
- Deadly effects from mixing alcohol with sleeping pills, pain pills or medications taken to manage anxiety and depression
The potential negative interactions are just a few of the possible risks associated with drinking while taking medication. Older adults taking prescription or over-the-counter medication should always consult their doctor or pharmacist about whether it is safe to take any alcohol while on the medication. While anyone can experience medication interaction effects when drinking, older adults are at greater risk.
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Alcohol Rehab for the Elderly
If you think an older adult in your life is abusing alcohol, please help them seek treatment. Regardless of someone’s age, treatment is needed if substance use is present. In Ohio, The Recovery Village Columbus offers compassionate help for alcohol or other substance use disorder. With tailored, individualized treatment plans, caring counselors and a comfortable setting, The Recovery Village Columbus can provide the necessary treatment.
If you live in Ohio and think your parent or elderly friend may be dangerously using alcohol, contact us. Older adults will benefit from treatment just like anyone else. By living a healthier, substance-free life, they can more fully enjoy their golden years.
Resources for the Elderly Suffering From Alcoholism
If you or an older adult in your life struggles with alcohol misuse, the following resources can be helpful.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
The NIAAA provides a treatment program search tool so you can find treatment programs in your area. The tool allows you to search by zip code to find providers nearby.
The Local Area Agency on Aging
In Ohio, local Area Agencies on Aging provide services to help older adults stay healthy and socially engaged. Connecting with your local agency can help you find ways to stay healthy and cope with life’s stressors without turning to alcohol misuse. This agency can also link you to medical care and financial resources.
The Ohio Attorney General
The Ohio Attorney General provides resources for older adults to help them avoid scams and stay safe. These resources, linked at the Ohio Attorney General’s website, may benefit older adults struggling with alcohol addiction.
The SAMHSA National Helpline
Sometimes, alcohol misuse in older adults is a way to cope with an untreated mental health condition, like anxiety or depression. The SAMHSA National Helpline can provide information about your area’s mental health and addiction resources.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2023. Accessed May 17, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Older Adults.” Accessed May 17, 2023.
Rigler, Sally. “Alcoholism in the Elderly.” American Family Physician, 2000. Accessed May 17, 2023.
National Institute on Aging. “Facts About Aging and Alcohol.” July 19, 2022. Accessed May 17, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Harmful Interactions.” 2014. Accessed May 17, 2023.
Grant, Bridget; Chou, Patricia; Saha, Tulshi; et al. “Prevalence of 12-Month Alcohol Use, High-Risk Drinking, and DSM-IV Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013.” JAMA Psychiatry, September 6, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2023.
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