Senior Living Care Blog

How Alcohol Affects Older Individuals

Posted by Joe Gilmore on Mar 1, 2019 11:00:00 AM

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 40 percent of adults over the age of 65 drink alcohol. Older individuals can experience a variety of problems from drinking alcohol that they may not have felt earlier in their life, especially if they have other health problems or are taking medication.


Aging automatically lowers the body’s tolerance to alcohol and many older adults will experience the effects of drinking more quickly than they did when they were younger. Because of this, it puts senior citizens at an increased risk for car crashes and other unintentional injuries such as falling.


Overall, drinking excessively is not good for anyone at any age, but the problem can become more troublesome for older adults as they can suffer from more complications from over drinking.



Seniors and Alcohol

Individuals at lunch enjoying different alcoholic beverages

According to the NIH, it is recommended that adults over the age of 65 who do not take medication should not have more than 3 drinks on a given day and no more than 7 drinks a week. Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems.


However, many older adults are not drinking responsibly. According to one study, as many as 50 percent of individuals aged 60 and over drank in excess. And, up to 25 percent of adults 75 and older engaged in heavy episodic drinking.


Older Women

Overall, older women tend to have longer life expectancy and live longer than men, however, older women have major physical risk factors that make the particularly susceptible to the effects of increased alcohol consumption. One reason for this is due to the fact that women normally have less lean muscle mass than men.




While not incredibly prevalent among the senior community, alcohol use disorder still affects up to 3 percent of elderly subjects. Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder (AUD) affect about 18 million adults in the United States, however, it should be noted that AUDs in the elderly are underestimated and some data can be skewed. This type of alcohol dependence causes cravings, loss of control, physical dependence, and an increased tolerance to the substance.


For seniors who are dealing with AUD, it may seem like going through an alcohol treatment program may seem useless at this point in life. However, solving an alcohol problem for anyone is a worthwhile thing to do. As with most people going through alcoholism treatment, there are medical and neurological conditions related to alcohol withdrawal, but the symptoms associated with the problem are even more common.


Treatment for AUD in elderly subjects should always be pursued, as it as just as effective younger patients. However, more attention should be paid for patients during the early stages of withdrawal and following discharge from a facility to help prevent relapse.



Increased Health Problems

One of the biggest risks for senior citizens if falls and trips. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 800,000 hospitalizations a year due to a fall injury. Along with falls, heavy drinking can exacerbate a number of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, liver problems, and more.


There are also a number of prescription and over-the-counter medication that is that can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol. Some of these common medications include aspirin, cold and allergy medication, cough syrup, sleeping pills, depression medicine, and pain medication.


It should also be noted that excessive drinking can lead to an increase in a number of cancers including mouth and throat cancer, esophagus cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer.


Along with increased cancer risk, excessive alcohol use can lead to many health problems related to your liver. Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking. Over time, this drinking can lead to scarring and eventually to cirrhosis of the liver, the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.



Alcohol Risk for Older Adults

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) put together a ranking system for the levels of risk associated with alcohol and older adults.


Low-Risk Use

Low-risk is when alcohol use does not lead to a problem. People in this category put reasonable limits on the amount of alcohol that they drink and do not operate a care when they have been drinking. They also do not engage in binge drinking.


At-Risk Use

A step up from low-risk, at-risk use increases the chances that a person will develop problems and complications. These people normally drink seven to 10 drinks a week. They normally do not have health problems associated with alcohol, at the moment.


Problem Use

This category refers toa level of alcohol use that has resulted in medical, psychological, or social consequences.


Alcohol Dependence

This is a category characterized by loss of control and a preoccupation of alcohol that leads to physiological symptoms such as tolerance and withdrawal.


Overall, drinking alcohol is not good for you in general, but limiting your drinking to a couple drinks a week can go a long way to help you stay healthy later in life.



In Conclusion

As mentioned before, many older adults still drink alcohol, and up to half of them drink in excess and above the recommended limit. Alcohol use affects seniors more than younger people, in part due to the deterioration of lean muscle that comes with aging. Older women in particular are more at risk of alcohol problems. Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder is one problem that affects up to three percent of older individuals, problem that should be treated with professional help. Withdrawals and relapse are two aspects of getting sober that require advanced attention for older adults.


At Landmark Senior Living, the medical care we can provide can help for many health issues that many senior adults will suffer from. Along with medical attention, our staff helps organize social events to keep residents happy. If you would like more information, please reach out to our admissions staff today.



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Topics: Senior Health

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