Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

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Alcoholism is a raging problem in the country, and seniors are not shielded from it. Let’s look at alcohol abuse and its impact on seniors, how to get help, and treatment options.

In this guide, we will focus on the rising problem of alcohol abuse among the elderly. We will discuss how to recognize the problem, why it is more prevalent and dangerous in the elderly, what can happen if it is done in extreme excess (alcohol poisoning), and of course treatment options for you or anyone you know who is undergoing this disease.

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a serious problem that affects many people but impacts seniors more than the youth and the middle-aged. 

According to the CDC, heavy drinking is defined as consuming enough alcohol to raise blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08 g / dL. Heavy drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks that a woman drinks within 2 hours. When a man drinks more than five glasses in a short period, it is called drinking.

On a more regular basis, heavy drinking means consuming around 15 drinks in a week for males and consuming more than eight drinks in a week for women

However, it’s important to remember that these statistics apply to adults of all ages. Because the body’s composition differs from age to age, blood alcohol levels in the elderly can be higher than in young people.

Alcohol Abuse Rises With Age

When you reach a certain age, alcoholism does not go away. While it may seem easy to reject senior alcohol intake because “he’s lived a long life and earned the right to make his own decisions,” there is no age where excessive alcohol consumption is appropriate.

Here are some alarming statistics regarding alcohol abuse in the elderly:

You may not have noticed, but alcohol abuse among the elderly is a major epidemic right now. Unfortunately, it is frequently unnoticed, unreported, and mistreated.

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

You might also like to read Blood Alcohol Calculator

Why Is Alcohol More Dangerous in the Elderly?

Alcohol has many effects on the mind and body that make it more harmful to the elderly body. Here are some examples:

  • Increased alcohol sensitivity
  • Dehydration 
  • Health Concerns 
  • Drug Interactions 
  • Possibility of Sexually Transmitted Diseases 

Increased Alcohol Sensitivity 

For a variety of reasons, a person becomes more susceptible to alcohol as you age.  

The activity of alcohol-degrading enzymes decreases with age. Reduced activity of this enzyme, known as alcohol dehydrogenase, can raise blood alcohol levels over time. 

At the same time, lean body mass loss in the elderly can contribute to a greater peak in blood alcohol levels than in the young after just a few drinks.


The body loses water with age, and for unknown reasons, you even feel thirsty less often. Elderly people frequently suffer from dehydration. According to one study, up to 30% of seniors admitted to the hospital also experienced dehydration

One of the main reasons why seniors are more sensitive to alcohol is because their bodies contain less water, as previously stated. Excessive alcohol use, particularly over a long period, exacerbates the condition.

When we drink alcohol, we become dehydrated because our bodies absorb less water than they would if we weren’t drinking. 

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

While drinking alcohol, there’s also the chance of vomiting, which can dehydrate us even more by eliminating important fluids and electrolytes. Being dehydrated as a senior is risky. 

Dehydration can cause the following further complication:

  • Problems with the kidneys
  • Seizures
  • Inflammation of the brain
  • Comas
  • Death

Exacerbates Health Concerns 

An increasing number of people have health problems. High alcohol consumption can exacerbate other health problems commonly found in the elderly. Heavy drinking can cause the following health problems:

  • Diabetes. 
  • Liver Damage. 
  • Osteoporosis. 
  • Memory-related problems. 
  • Congestive heart failure 
  • High blood pressure. 
  • Mood problems. 
  • Harmful Interactions of Drugs 

Lastly, elderly people are more susceptible to loss of balance after alcohol consumption, leading to disasters such as falls. 

Drug Interactions

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lists the following drugs that can be harmful when used in combination with alcohol:

  • Aspirin 
  • Cough syrup
  • sleeping pills
  • Cold and allergy medicine  
  •  Painkiller 
  • Acetaminophen
Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

Memory Loss 

Older persons may develop memory loss (blackout, patchy short-term memory) sooner than they used to due to their increased sensitivity to alcohol when engaging in current drinking behaviors. Getting to that point used to take hours of heavy drinking, but now it may just take a handful of drinks.

Alcohol addiction has been shown to have long-term negative effects on the brain, impacting everything from motor function to memory. According to one study, middle-aged men who consume two and a half alcoholic beverages per day are more likely than those who consume less to experience “rapid mental losses” over the next decade. According to the study, heavy drinkers began to experience it. 

Over 80% of alcoholics have thiamine (vitamin B) deficiency, which can induce memory and mental issues, including Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

This condition is made up of two separate illnesses: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. These are common issues among seniors who binge drink.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy has the following main symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Eyesight paralysis
  • Muscle coordination problems

Patients with WE may not exhibit any of these symptoms, which is why it is often discovered after they have passed away. WE can also strike in fits and starts, with you displaying only one or two symptoms at a time and being undiagnosed for the remainder of your life. 

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 80 to 90 percent of people with WE develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. This more chronic illness severely affects memory and motor function. It may lead to memory loss one and a half to six years earlier than those who drank less.

Mood Disturbances

Long-term use of alcohol and other drugs, according to one study, can lead to mood problems, including depression and bipolar disorder. Doctors must identify whether patients had a mood condition before beginning their addiction or if the mood disorder results from years of use.

Possibility of Sexually Transmitted Diseases 

Alcohol has an effect on the mind which causes you to loosen up and let go of inhibitions. Regular alcohol abuse may lead to (otherwise) unwanted and unprotected sex, which can lead to STDs.

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

Alcohol Poisoning: Excessive Alcohol Abuse And Its Impact

Excessive alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is serious and can be fatal. It occurs when a person consumes a considerable amount of alcohol in a short period.

Alcohol poisoning may be caused by any alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor. When alcohol is digested and absorbed by your stomach, it enters your circulation, and your alcohol blood level rises. Your liver is in charge of breaking down alcohol. However, when your blood alcohol level is high, your liver becomes overworked and unable to clear the toxins rapidly enough.

The presence of alcohol in one’s bloodstream has a depressant impact. That is, it obstructs proper operation. This condition affects the parts of the brain that control vital body processes such as respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. The depressive effect gets more prominent as blood alcohol levels rise.

Each year, at least 2,200 people die as a result of alcohol poisoning. According to data, men between the ages of 35 and 64 are the most likely to die from it. The majority of those who die from alcohol poisoning are white.

Alcohol poisoning may happen to anybody at any time. However, some important factors are the drinker’s age, the amount of food in a person’s stomach, and alcohol consumption in the past.

Symptoms and Causes of alcohol intoxication

When there is too much alcohol in the blood, it causes alcohol poisoning. The disease is also known as alcohol overdose. The amount of alcohol in the blood is measured using the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) as a percentage.

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

Who is the most susceptible to the effects of alcohol poisoning?

It only takes a trace of alcohol in the blood to cause problems:

In the 0.0 to 0.05 percent range: This is a level of incapacity regarded as moderate. Common symptoms include difficulty speaking and remembering things. The person may seem uncomfortable and tired.

The person’s impairment has advanced between 0.06 and 0.15 percent. The symptoms of mild impairment are exacerbated by mild impairment. Driving abilities begin to deteriorate significantly.

Between 0.16 and 0.30 percent range, the consequences of growing impairment increase. Judgment and decision-making abilities are significantly affected. The person may have blackouts. Vomiting is a common event for me.

In the range of 0.31 to 0.45%: The situation has now reached the stage where it is life-threatening. As a result of the depressing influence, which causes vital life functions to halt excessively, the individual is in considerable danger of dying at this point.

What are the indications and symptoms of drunkenness from alcohol?

Because alcohol poisoning can be fatal, it’s vital to recognize the signs and symptoms. Some of the most prevalent signs of alcohol poisoning include the following:

  • Bluish-colored or cold, damp skin, especially around the lips and fingernails.
  • Symptoms include confusion, delayed responses, lack of coordination, and difficulty in moving. 
  • It’s challenging to remain awake.
  • Hypothermia. 
  • Irregularities in the pulse, heartbeat, or respiration (intervals of 10 seconds or more between breaths). 
  • Problems with the bladder or bowels can be managed (incontinence). 
  • There’s a chance you’ll have seizures, vomit, or choke.
Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

What Are My Options for Getting Help?

If you’re addicted to alcohol, there are options accessible to you regardless of your age, particularly if you’re older. The first step, though, is to pinpoint the problem. 

This is either a realization and acceptance that the person must reach, which may result from a doctor’s diagnosis after seeking treatment for a range of medical issues.

Whatever the situation, remember that addiction is a disease, not a choice, no matter how far the addiction has developed or the health problems it has caused. It’s not something you can just discard. Quitting the drinking habit of cold turkey might be fatal. 

This is why, especially if you’ve been drinking in the days preceding up to your quitting, it’s suggested that you gradually wean yourself off alcohol when stopping. 

Make a schedule for how many drinks you’ll have each day, then cut back by two drinks each day until you’re no longer drinking. For example, if you normally consume ten drinks per day, reduce them to eight, six, four, two, and so on for five days.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Below are some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Many of these may be more pronounced in the elderly.

  • Blood pressure rises as a result of anxiety.
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach related issues
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Exceptional Delirium (severe confusion)

Types of Treatment for Treating Alcoholism In Elderly

Most people think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient treatment when asked how alcoholism is treated, but they may struggle to come up with other options. In reality, because of considerable advancements in the profession over the last 60 years, a number of therapy options are now accessible.

Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what works for one person may not work for another. Simply knowing the several options might be a critical first step.

Behavioral therapy

In behavioral therapy, counseling is utilized to assist people in improving their drinking habits. They’re backed up by research that indicates they’re effective, and health specialists supervise them.


Three medications have been approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and avoid relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or another health care professional and can be used alone or with psychotherapy.

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

Mutual-Assistance Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step organizations provide peer assistance to those trying to quit drinking or cut back. When paired with professional treatment, mutual-support groups can provide an important extra layer of support.

Researchers find it difficult to compare the success rates of mutual-support groups to those run by health professionals since mutual-support groups are anonymous.

Consult a Primary Care Physician First.

A primary care physician is an important first step for anybody contemplating therapy; he or she may be able to give treatment referrals and medications. A primary care physician can also do the following:

  • Examine the drinking habits of the patient
  • Assist in the development of a therapeutic strategy.
  • Examine every aspect of your health.
  • Examine whether or not alcohol-related medications are required.
  • Individuals should discuss the best main treatment choice with their doctors.

Wrap Up

Alcohol abuse is a mental disease, and just like any disease, it can be cured with a bit of love, patience, understanding, and self-belief. The first step to addressing alcoholism is to admit that there is a problem, and accept that the solution lies in seeking help.

Alcohol Abuse and Seniors

We hope the information covered in this article and the resources we tried to share would have given you the tools to fight alcohol abuse in seniors who you are taking care of. Do not hesitate to put in your further questions to us. We would love to be able to add answers to your questions.

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