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Alcohol and the Elderly: Understanding Late Addiction

Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee Program

According to the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, more than 10% of individuals ages 65 and older are binge drinkers. This closely ties alcohol and the elderly together, an unexpected pairing at first glance. But, the elderly population has faced challenges with alcoholism before and continue to do so now. In particular, binge drinking is one of the top concerns for this age group.

For women of all ages, binge drinking means they consume fur or more alcoholic beverages in a two-hour period of time or less. For men of all ages, it is considered binge drinking when five or more drinks are consumed within that same time period. And while binge drinking is reported in nearly 1 in 40 elderly individuals in the United States, it is also reported that an additional 1.6% of this very same population has been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. 

Alcohol use disorder and binge drinking are significantly different from one another, as alcohol use disorder is characterized by the inability to stop drinking alcohol despite the negative consequences that come from it. Binge drinking denotes a period of time in which a high number of drinks are consumed in one sitting. Either way, both alcohol use disorder and binge drinking are two extremely prevalent challenges that the elderly population is currently facing today. And, unfortunately, the elderly population sees greater risk to their overall health and wellbeing than other age groups when dealing with alcohol use disorder.

Risk Factors for Alcohol Use Disorder and the Elderly

Everyone, regardless of age, can become more likely to abuse alcohol as a result of specific risk factors. These risk factors include abuse, death of a loved one, racism, a natural disaster, and abandonment (to name a few). While those elderly individuals who have a history of one or more of these factors are certainly at higher risk to turn to alcohol to cope than others, they also have some unique risk factors based on their age that can trigger them to start drinking.

Physical Health Problems

It is no secret that the older a person gets, the more likely it is for them to experience physical health problems. In the elderly population, some of the most common ailments they develop are related to heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and falls. These types of health problems can create psychological and physical pain that an individual may feel can be alleviated by self-medicating with alcohol. 

Sensitivity to Alcohol

As a person grows older, much about their bodies changes, including how they process alcohol. Elderly men and women become more sensitive to alcohol because it becomes more difficult for the body to break down alcohol. This means that alcohol is not clearing the system at an efficient rate, making it very easy for an elderly person to get drunk off of a small amount of alcohol. Individuals who choose to drink heavily despite the inability for their bodies to process alcohol quickly run the risk of becoming dependent, falling and getting hurt, and even overdosing.

Memory Loss

Not all elderly people find themselves grappling with the effects of memory loss, but many of them do. The natural cognitive decline associated with getting older impacts the strength of one’s memory in general, regardless of if they have a disease like Alzheimer’s. Memory loss can cause elderly individuals to forget how much they have already drunk, leading to higher rates of consumption. It can also cause them to forget which medications they are taking and when, meaning that it becomes possible for them to accidentally take too much or not enough of their prescribed medication. Add alcohol into that situation and things can quickly take a turn for the worse. 

Increased Likelihood of Experiencing Grief

Elderly individuals experience the loss of friends and family members at a higher rate than other age groups simply because they are in the last part of their lives. This leaves them susceptible to struggling with grief, depression, and anxiety about their own fate. Drinking alcohol may seem like a simple way to block all of those big feelings out so that the pain can subside.

Less Likely to Seek Professional Help

There are so many wonderful qualities about elderly individuals, as they lived the majority of their lives in a time that is much different than the present. They offer many words of wisdom and are often admired by their loved ones. However, because they are from a different generation (typically ones where asking for psychological help was frowned upon) they are less likely to seek professional help on their own. They are also less likely to listen to concerned loved ones regarding their alcohol consumption. This can create long-term alcohol abuse that causes a domino effect of mental, physical, and interpersonal complications.

Alcohol Rehab for the Elderly in Florida

If you or someone you love is experiencing a problem with alcohol, know that you are not alone. You do not need to go through any of this by yourself. Call My Psychiatrist right now to be connected to one of our compassionate professionals. We can help you get the care you need right here and right now. Call us today.