Surveys of 40,000 U.S. adults taken in 2012-2013 showed that the percentage of adults 65 and over who drank increased by 22 percent, which was the largest jump of any age group. A 2017 JAMA Pyschiatry study reported that older adults with diagnosed “binge” drinking, more than five drinks in one sitting for men and four for women, at least weekly rose 65 percent. The 2017 study also reported that older adults with diagnosed alcohol use disorders increased more than 107 percent.
The fact is that families, friends, and healthcare workers often overlook their concerns about older people drinking. Sometimes trouble with alcohol in older people is mistaken for other conditions related to aging, for example, a problem with balance. But, how the body handles alcohol can change with age. You may have the same drinking habits, but your body has changed.
Alcohol may act differently in older people than in younger people. Some older people can feel "high" without increasing the amount of alcohol they drink. This "high" can make them more likely to have accidents, including falls and fractures and car crashes. Also, older women are more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol.
Drinking too much alcohol over a long time can:
- Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage
- Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss and mood disorders
- Make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat—for example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.
- Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused—these symptoms could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer's disease.
This article comes from the National Institute on Aging. To learn more about our addiction services and treatment programs in the Front Range call 303-467-4080, in Western Colorado call 970-298-3901, in Butte, MT call 406-299-3448 and Miles City, MT call 406-233-2769.