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Senior Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse among older adults is common, with millions who remain under the radar as they live in a fog of alcohol abuse or addiction. One-third of alcoholism among seniors is late-onset. Without enduring protector factors, major life transitions may wreak havoc with a person’s life, causing maladaptive behaviors to become coping mechanisms.

Life transitions are often seismic shifts in an older person’s perspective or lifestyle. The loss of family members or a spouse may also mean a shift in personal roles in society and life. Loss of job through retirement or layoff may leave a void. Older people may find that, in a retirement community, the daily Happy Hour can create an addictive pattern of drinking alcohol.  The family members of many seniors eventually research alcoholic treatment centers to find help for their loved one.

Many seniors have been high-functioning alcoholics for years, maintaining their job and other responsibilities despite regular alcohol consumption. Yet alcoholism is a progressive disease and will take a toll on the entire body. Cognitive loss also is possible, and relationships suffer in the chronic disease of alcoholism. Families fall apart or become dysfunctional.

Age-specific treatment works. Older people tend to relate the words alcoholism and addiction to a moral failing, so age sensitivity and awareness of generational values, including respect for peers, is very important in addressing the subject. It is important to know that older people do well as an age group in age-specific rehab.

Health hazards for older adults who drink alcohol:

Alcohol can interact with a number of medications, including allergy, sleep, pain, anxiety and many over-the-counter drugs.

Balance can more easily be thrown off and result in falls.

Health conditions can be exacerbated, and heavy drinking can result in many medical disorders.

What is safe and unsafe for an older person who does not have a problem with alcohol abuse?
Here is where the guidelines meet resistance but, honestly, seniors know that they can no longer “handle “ the amount of alcohol they think they can or could when they were younger.

Many sources recommend just one drink for women and two for men, although the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that for those over age 65, three drinks maximum per day and no more than seven per week is advisable. Older people do take medications, so they should  take that into consideration when drinking socially.

According to the NIAAA, a standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol. This relates to a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Older women become intoxicated faster than older men do, because they have lower amounts of body water, and alcohol diffuses through body water. Higher concentrations of alcohol result from smaller body water content. Women also do not metabolize the alcohol the same because they have a lower level of the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol in the stomach. Women also are generally more apt to become addicted to alcohol sooner and are twice as likely to die from alcoholism.

Prevention of late-onset alcohol addiction is important for all family members and those who care for older adults, especially during life transitions, when risky behaviors may become embedded into everyday life.