As people begin to age there is an increasing alcohol impact on the body. In middle age people may now find themselves having consequences to drinking they didn’t have when younger. This is related to metabolic changes such as weight and the ability to break down the alcohol in our systems. People may have been able to drink without consequences earlier in their lives, but now, have little tolerance for alcohol.

Alcohol Impact And Medication Interactions

In addition, seniors tend to take more medications as they age, and alcohol use with these medications can create even more problems. Alcohol can render some medications useless (such as watering down the medication), or alcohol can make a medication too strong. Some examples include Ambien (for sleep) and Valium (for anxiety). Alcohol shouldn’t be taken with these medications. The interaction is called ‘potentiating’ the medication, and could actually lead to an accidental overdose.

Alcohol Impact When Seniors Drink More

Another alcohol issue is that seniors turn to alcohol to cope with life losses such as the loss of a career due to retirement; empty-nest syndrome; boredom; loneliness; deaths of family, friends, or a partner; death of a beloved pet; isolation from others; family problems; loss of income; being placed in a care facility; and deteriorating health and mental health issues. Alcohol may make people feel better initially, but unfortunately, drinking begins to cause more problems and consequences over time.

Statistics From NCADD and SAMHSA Reveal

  • Approximately 2.5 million older adults have alcohol or drug use problems
  • Widowers over 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the U.S
  • Some 50% of nursing home residents have problems related to drinking
  • Women tend to be more susceptible to negative effects
  • “Abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs among adults 60 and older is one of the fastest growing health problems facing this country” (SAMHSA)

Some Symptoms Of Alcohol-Related Problems

  • Odor of alcohol/slurred speech
  • Lying about the use and/or minimizing the amount
  • Hiding and/or sneaking drinking
  • Poor judgment
  • Staying away from family and friends
  • Confusion (may mimic dementia)
  • Fender benders or car crashes
  • Memory and concentration difficulties (may mimic dementia)
  • Ignoring warnings about mixing alcohol with medications
  • Becoming intoxicated more easily
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Increased pain symptoms including upset stomach
  • Lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Depression, anxiety, change in moods, and grief
  • Becoming agitated and may be violent
  • Problems sleeping or oversleeping
  • Struggling to maintain hygiene and may include incontinence
  • Falling/tripping
  • Having illnesses related to drinking such as pancreatitis and brain damage
  • Having more medical illnesses unrelated to drinking such as COPD, stroke, and high blood pressure, as well as bruises and broken bones from tripping and falling.

While growing older can be satisfying in many ways, senior health can be negatively affected both by lifestyle habits like poor nutrition, lack of exercise and lack of mental stimulation and increased use of medications and alcohol. Alcohol use often rises with age, and Alcohol Use Disorder (alcoholism) is a chronic progressive disease that gets worse with age. Like other diseases, Alcohol Use Disorder can be treated at any age.  If you are concerned for yourself or for a loved one, there is hope and recovery.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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