Betty does enjoy an evening cocktail. Before her retirement she would come home from work at six, get dinner on the table for the family and have her gin and tonic by 7pm. Now the kids have grown, her husband recently passed away and cocktail hour begins earlier each day. The cast on her wrist is evidence she has been drinking too much. Last night she tripped on the carpet after drinking since lunch and woke up in the emergency room with her daughter in tears.
Alcohol Abuse and Seniors
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) and the American Heart Association note that studies have widely reported the health benefits for heart and cardiovascular disease, from limited alcohol consumption. Yet, studies also show that there are negative effects from alcohol consumption for seniors who may have preexisting conditions, are taking medications, or may be consuming alcohol excessively.
In regards to alcohol abuse and seniors, The Alcohol Rehab Guide states that by 2020 about 5.7 million older adults will suffer from substance abuse disorders. While studies show that in general men are five times more likely to become alcoholics than women, the US Department of Health and Human Services notes that women are more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse later in life. The National Institute on Aging reports that older women are ‘more sensitive’ to the effects of alcohol than older men. The most recent report from the NIAA noted a rise of excessive drinking across age and socio-economic groups including an alarming trend in the older adult community.
The Rise of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors
There can be various reasons that older adults may be more susceptible to excessive drinking. Triggers like trauma, loss, illness, or pain can turn moderate or social drinkers to excessive drinkers. Retirement can create a sense of loneliness, boredom, or uselessness. Trauma or loss of friends and loved ones, depression and isolation, anxiety and sleep disorders are common experiences of older adults that can lead to substance abuse vulnerability.
Alcohol’s Effect on Seniors
Alcohol is a sedative that affects the neurotransmitter in the brain. Alcohol releases endorphins which increase the feelings of pleasure and happiness. The metabolism of alcohol in the liver slows with age due to decreased muscle mass, and aging brains are more sensitive to sedative elements.
Some of the effect and risks of alcohol in seniors include:
- Alcohol often interferes and interacts with medications and herbal and other supplements. Older adults are often taking more than one medication and/or supplement. Read the labels on all prescription and non-prescription drugs and supplements for information about alcohol consumption.
- Older adults are at a higher risk of falls and fractures. Alcohol consumptions affect balance, and cognitive skills. “Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.” NIA
- Alcohol use impedes driving skills, can cause forgetfulness, blackouts, irritability.
- Alcohol can compound existing illness like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors
Symptoms of alcohol abuse may be overlooked in the elderly as some of the effects are thought normal to the aging process. One or more of the symptoms below may indicate alcohol abuse;
- Drinking more than usual
- Excessive drinking – 4+ servings per day, each day
- Use of alcohol even when medication requires abstinence
- Changes in behavior or mood
- Balance issues, or falls
- Lying about drinking, hidden liquor bottles
- Loss of interest in food
What to do if you suspect you or a senior of alcohol abuse.
- Talk to your senior about their drinking. Evaluate their response in relation to the signs listed above.
- Test the desire to drink. If it is a struggle not to drink, or you think about drinking during the day, there is a problem.
- See your physician or healthcare provider.
- Stop drinking. Some long-term excess drinkers may require medical assistance.
- Attend addiction counseling and/or join a support group.
Healthy and Engaging Senior Living at Green Hill
A healthy and happy life in catered independent living and assisted living apartments for each resident is central to the mission of person-directed care at Green Hill. Nurturing friendships, dozens of clubs and activities, community outreach, and physical fitness programs engage residents and create purpose. Professional support with health and medication management is provided.
The Green Hill Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Carl Ziesing provides management and support for those who may be experiencing substance abuse issues.
Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month “to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.”
If you or a loved one shows signs of alcohol or substance abuse contact https://www.ncadd.org to find local assistance.