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Alcoholism And The Elderly

Alcohol is a widely-abused substance responsible for claiming the lives and wellbeing of many, including the elderly.

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Alcoholism Statistics In Elderly Populations

According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), alcohol affects every part of the body and alcohol abuse is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Alcoholism is progressive, treatable, yet potentially fatal. More than half of the deaths related to alcohol are due to ill health effects from drinking too much over a long period of time, such as various types of liver disease, heart disease, and cancer. Fortunately, members of the elderly population are reported to drink less than their younger counterparts; however, numbers are rising. According to a SAMHSA study, a 7-year span revealed 16.2 million adults 65 and older have struggled with alcoholism, 3.4 million elderly adults engaging in binge drinking, and 772,000 engaged in heavy drinking. Since then, numbers have increased, concerning health officials and loved ones of those affected.

The binge drinking which occurs in the 3.4 million elderly adults who drink are gender specific. For women, binge drinking is when she drinks 4 or more servings of 12-oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of distilled alcohol (also called spirits) in a 2-hour time frame. For men, binge drinking is 5 or more servings of 12-oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of distilled alcohol in a 2-hour time frame. Heavy drinking can include drinking 5 or more standard drinks each day, sometimes overlapping with binge drinking according to some sources.

Risk Factors For Elderly Drinking

Due to the challenges that can come in the aging population like chronic illness and depression, older adults who drink alcohol risk hypertension, heart disease, and other health risks. Furthermore, the challenges endured by individuals older in age, such as isolation, the body changing, changes in mood and cognition, feelings of frustration in the aging process, the loss of a loved one, side effects of some medications that cause depression, and other factors can cause difficult emotions. As a result, alcohol can seem like a quick fix to manage emotions, and the more someone drinks, they can develop a tolerance and possibly an alcohol use disorder.

Lastly, elderly who have had a past problem with chronic drinking often have an addiction to other chemicals, and older women are much more at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder—specifically with binge drinking. In the year between 2005 and 2006, there was a “44% rise” in elderly woman who binge drank.

Elderly Drinking And Health-Related Challenges

Since the aging body responds differently to harmful chemicals, the aging population can develop alcohol use disorders or struggle with intoxication faster than younger age groups. Continued drinking, especially at this age range, produces increased blood alcohol concentrations and due to physical changes in the body, faster alcohol metabolism.. Long-term drinking can change the brain’s composition. When consumed in low amounts and socially, it may not be extremely harmful; however, long-term and consistent drinking at an older age can deteriorate brain function. The US National Institutes of Health says excessive drinking in the elderly community could “increase the risk of cognitive dementia and dysfunction.”

Secondly, there is the pull of the addictive properties of alcohol. When drinking occurs, it can become habit forming, depending on the frequency or motives behind drinking. The more someone drinks, the more he or she develops a comfortable tolerance with drinking which can lead to abuse. If an elderly individual already has a diagnosis of depression and chronic pain, drinking can worsen such conditions.

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Signs Of Elderly Drinking

There are many visible signs of elderly drinking that exceed the most common signs of drinking. Some of the most common signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Smelling alcohol on breath
  • Spending time in isolation
  • Dehydration
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Lethargy
  • Increased risk of accidental overdose if combined with other drugs
  • Depression
  • Inability to control alcohol use
  • Symptoms of withdrawal

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Side effects like short-term memory loss are especially challenging to combat in older age, as the memory can already be compromised. Additionally, dehydration stemming from alcoholism can further cause more challenges in the elder community compared to younger individuals. For one, dehydration can worsen incontinence or create problems with urination. Lastly, drinking too much can cause financial instability, and if members in the elder community are retired, can cause financial strain.

How Treatment Can Help

Fortunately, attending treatment for an alcohol use disorder older in age can have benefits. For one, it gives the patient access to medication assisted therapies if needed, detoxification, support groups, and clinical staff. For older individuals feeling alone or struggling with mental health, support meetings and process groups may help them feel connected. Furthermore, family therapy, or one-on-one counseling can help them discover underlying reasons for alcohol use, provide an opportunity to process feelings, learn healthy coping skills, and improve their quality of life. On-site activities and other methods for treating addiction like detox can also help.

Get Help

Regardless of age, alcoholism is a serious matter than can cause severe health challenges. The way to recovery from alcoholism is to seek treatment. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, help is out there. Fortunately, some facilities offer financial plans. Contact a treatment provider today and discover treatment options.


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