Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate based on age. While it’s believed that most cases of alcoholism occur in the younger generation, it’s becoming more and more common for people over the age of 60 to be diagnosed with alcoholism. A survey conducted for the charity Foundation66 found that one in eight persons admitted to drinking more once they hit retirement. Whether they’re drinking because of depression, loneliness, or grief, it’s becoming quite a serious problem for senior citizens. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has estimated that of the nearly eight million diagnosed alcoholics, at least 80,000 of them are over the age of 60.
Advanced Age Increases One’s Sensitivity to Alcohol
Various medical studies in both animals and humans have shown that a person’s sensitivity to alcohol increases with age. The sensitivity is so marked, in fact, that the NIAAA recommends that senior citizens indulge in no more than one drink per day. They recommend this due to the body’s declining ability to properly metabolize alcohol, as well as excrete it in a timely manner. This means that in an elderly person, the body’s blood alcohol level spikes more with each drink than it does in a younger person. Because of that, seniors will experience a more rapid intoxication that lasts for a longer period. Many seniors think that their prior tolerance to alcohol will aid them as they age, but research has shown that this isn’t true.
Alcohol Is Significantly More Harmful to Senior Citizens
You probably know the harmful effects of alcoholism, but many people don’t know that these effects are much worse in senior citizens who are abusing alcohol. Seniors already have the increased risk of broken bones or severe injuries due to falls, and frequent intoxication leads them to be less stable and more prone to falling. Alcohol also worsens an elderly person’s pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, ulcers, and diabetes. It can also make it difficult to diagnose underlying medical conditions. It can mask the signs of a heart attack as it dulls pain reception, and the memory loss and confusion associated with alcoholism can also mimic Alzheimer’s disease.
Since senior citizens frequently use multiple prescription medications, they are at an increased risk for medication reactions, some of which can be fatal. They can also worsen any potential side effects of certain medications, leading to dangerous effects like lack of appetite, significant drowsiness, and confusion.
Is There Help for Senior Citizens with Alcoholism?
The good news is that rehab programs for people over 60 who exhibit alcoholism, have been proven to be very successful. These programs that are geared specifically towards senior citizens have shown high rates of success because seniors are more likely to stick with the treatment program thanks to their age. If you know a senior with a drinking problem, it’s critical to help them realize the reason why they’ve started abusing alcohol. Was it the loss of a spouse that triggered it? Was it isolation because of a health condition or disability? If the root problem isn’t discovered and/or treated by close family and friends, treatment programs won’t be completely successful. Getting them into counseling, support groups, and supportive activities can make a big difference in ensuring that their alcoholism rehab program is effective. If alcoholic patterns are becoming apparent, staging an intervention before the ill effects of alcohol take hold is also very important. Although an intervention lets them know that their drinking is affecting their loved ones, it still maintains a supportive and loving environment.
Drinking shouldn’t ruin your loved one’s golden years. Whatever their reason for alcohol abuse is, their family and friends need to be involved from the very beginning to give them the very best chance of recovery.