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At-Risk Alcohol Abuse Among Older People

When you think about older people drinking alcohol, so many misconceptions and stereotypes exist. A new revealing study done by the school of medicine UCLA exposes much more about risky drinking by people 60 years old and older.[1] Many people assume that drinking at an older age isn’t that much of a problem or that not much can be done if a problem exists. But a new understanding of the risks of drinking for older people can help you or a loved one get the treatment you need.

Health Risk Factors

According to the UCLA study, older drinkers are much more likely to take a variety of medication which can increase their risk of developing complications from alcohol use. Some medicines can be dangerous when combined with alcohol, and certain health conditions can significantly worsen with heavy alcohol use, especially heart and liver conditions. Some older drinkers are at risk because they drink alone, due to the recent death of a spouse or other loved one or a divorce. Older drinkers are also at great risk for injury because of more frail bones, worsened sense of balance, or weakened muscles. The National Institute on Aging lists several risk factors for older adults who drink too much over time.[2]

Drinking too much over time or as an older adult 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 and ulcers.
  • Make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat because alcohol damages causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain or other symptoms that might be warning signs of a problem.
  • Increase forgetfulness and confusion in some older people which could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Elderly woman drinking

Older Alcohol Abuse Statistics

The UCLA study found that alcohol issues were slightly different for different cultural, educational and age groups. Caucasians were more than twice as likely to have risky drinking then Asians. Persons age 60 to 64 were more than twice as likely to have a drinking problem as those 80 years or older. Graduating from high school seemed to decrease an older person’s chances for risky drinking by 2.5 times. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, adults who are 65 years of age or older and on no medication should have no more than three drinks on a given day or seven drinks in a week.[3]

Alcohol Rehab for the Mature Adult

Older people tend to be somewhat ignored when it comes to alcoholism. People often assume that the symptoms associated with alcoholism are just a normal part of aging. But too much alcohol in the older adult can have disastrous consequences. Dangerous medication and alcohol combinations, falls, and accelerated disease can all shorten or dramatically impair a person’s quality of life. No one wants this for their older relatives.

Realizing you or a loved one has a problem and asking for help is the first and most important step in alcohol recovery no matter a person’s age. For the older person struggling with alcoholism, family support is crucial for successful treatment.

The older alcoholic may doubt that he or she can change, especially after so many years. But with family participation and encouragement, older people with at-risk drinking can improve and even save their lives by getting the right treatment. For more information about helping an older loved one struggling with alcohol abuse, call our toll-free number now.


[1] University of California, Los Angeles. “High Rates of At-Risk Drinking Among Elderly Adults, Study Finds,” Science Daily, May 1, 2010. Accessed March 20, 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100429092944.htm

[2] National Institute on Aging. “Alcohol Use in Older People,” March 2012. Accessed March 20, 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/alcohol-use-older-people

[3] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Older Adults.” Accessed March 20, 2017.  https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/alcohol-use-older-people