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Alcohol Abuse Rises with Age

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerFebruary 5, 2018
Alcohol Abuse Rises with Age

Most people are aware of the common health risks associated with aging – cancer, dementia, diabetes and heart disease. However, there is another condition on the rise for seniors that is unsuspecting and often overlooked by family, friends and healthcare professionals: alcohol abuse.

In “Alcohol Abuse is Rising Among Older Adults,” the New York Times reports that drinking is rising quickly for older Americans. A 10-year study has found that the number of older adults engaged in “high-risk drinking” has increased by a staggering 65%.

An Increase in Alcohol Abuse in Seniors

The study defined “high-risk” as a man who consumes five or more drinks in a day and a woman who consumes four or more drinks in a day on a weekly basis during the past year.

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The rate at which seniors are drinking has increased by 22% over 10 years, “the greatest rise in any age group,” the study found.

There are a variety of factors contributing to the rise in senior alcohol abuse, Alcohol Rehab Guide suggests:

  1. Boredom from lack of socialization or retirement.
  2. Deteriorating health conditions – contrarily, seniors who are in good health and less frail than in previous generations may continue with some unhealthy drinking patterns.
  3. Empty nest syndrome and loneliness.
  4. Loss of friendships due to death, health complications or moves.
  5. Sadness after downsizing a home.
  6. Traumatic events like a spouse’s death or illness.

The New York Times article also points to anxiety caused by the recession, which occurred between the two surveys as a potential contributing factor.

The Health Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

Many problems associated with alcohol consumption in older adults stem from the physiological changes seniors experience. The New York Times reports how the body handles alcohol can change with age, for example:

  • Aging brains grow more sensitive to the sedative properties of alcohol
  • Alcohol exacerbates chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension
  • An older person’s blood alcohol levels will rise higher than a younger drinker’s
  • Older adults have less muscle mass
  • The liver metabolizes alcohol more slowly

Alcohol can also interact with medications often prescribed to seniors. According to Alcohol Rehab Guide, when over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions are mixed with alcohol, the concoction can lead to dangerous falls, heart problems, high blood pressure, liver damage or death.

With these trends, it’s no surprise that emergency room visits are on the rise for alcohol-related injuries. Arm and hip fractures from falls and deaths from liver cirrhosis are the highest they have been since the 1960s. As the New York Times points out, “while two drinks a night at age 40 might not be an issue, two daily drinks at 70 is more complicated.”

Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors

Alcohol Rehab Guide reports the following common signs of alcohol abuse in seniors:

  1. Becoming agitated or irritable when sober.
  2. Consuming alcohol with prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  3. Drinking to cope with depression or loss.
  4. Exhibiting signs of drunkenness, such as slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on their breath or clothes.
  5. Hiding or stashing liquor bottles where they can’t be found.
  6. Lying about how much they’ve had to drink.
  7. Putting themselves or others in danger due to their drinking habits.

Supporting a Struggling Senior

There is a common misconception that seniors cannot (or will not) change their ways to overcome alcohol dependency.

However, the New York Times sourced a study that concluded seniors have the same or better success rates as younger drinkers, and were far more likely to adhere to treatment.

The best treatment option for seniors struggling with alcohol abuse is a geriatric substance abuse recovery program that offers a dual treatment approach for both addiction-recovery and medical conditions. Facilities such as these offer coordinated treatment among:

  • Discharge planning and community support
  • Education regarding the addiction disease process, and medication management
  • Mental health and addiction professionals
  • Occupational and physical therapy staff
  • Physicians and nurses
  • Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Social workers

If you suspect a senior loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, speak with a professional today about treatment and support options.

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Kimberley Fowler
Kimberley Fowler

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