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Alcohol and the Elderly: Understanding Late Addiction

Substance Use Disorder

alcohol and the elderly

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 four or more alcoholic beverages in a two-hour period 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. The alcohol use disorder is characterized by the inability to stop consuming alcohol despite the negative consequences. Binge drinking denotes a time period in which a high number of drinks are consumed in one sitting. Both alcohol use disorder and binge drinking are two extremely prevalent challenges that the elderly population is currently facing. Unfortunately, it increases the risk to their overall health than other age groups when coping with alcohol use disorder.

Risk Factors for Alcohol Use Disorder and the Elderly

Everyone, regardless of age, can become more prone to abuse alcohol as a result of specific risk factors. These risk factors include illness, death of a loved one, racism, a pandemic, isolation and more. Those individuals who have a history of one or more risk factors are at a higher risk to turn to alcohol.

Physical Health Problems

It is not uncommon that the older a person gets, the more likely it is for them to experience physical health problems. Some of the most frequent ailments 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

With aging, how body processes alcohol changes. Elderly people become more sensitive to alcohol because it becomes more difficult for the body to break it down. This means that alcohol is not clearing from the system at an efficient rate, making it very easy for an elderly person to get intoxicated from 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 coping 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 alcohol they have already consumed, 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. This can leave them more susceptible to grief, depression, and anxiety about their own fate and mortality. Unfortunately, some people turn to alcohol consumption in order to block or reduce such intense negative feelings.

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 abuse, know that you are not alone. A team of board-certified psychiatrists at My Psychiatrist are here for you. Visit MyPsychiatrist.com to learn more about how we customize our services to help you. Call us today at (954)561-6222 to speak with one of our experts or to schedule a consultation.