Senior Health: Vital Facts About Aging and Alcohol

Most people in their Golden Years enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time. While drinking adult beverages can be perfectly acceptable for many people, there are instances in which seniors experience different types of changes associated with aging or their health that necessitate a closer consideration of how they consume alcohol. In this article, we present some essential information about seniors, aging, and alcohol.

Changing Effects of Alcohol as We Age

As you age, you may be like many seniors and recognize that your body reacts differently to alcohol than may have been the case in the past. In addition, health issues or medications that you take can also have an effect on your body’s reaction to the consumption of alcohol.

Some older individuals feel the effects of alcohol more significantly without increasing the amount consumed. This can make these people more likely to have accidents that include falls and car crashes.

There are also situations in which some people develop what appropriately can be called a harmful reliance on alcohol in their senior years. This sometimes results from major life changes, such as the death of a spouse or other loved one, moving to a new home, or failing health.

These types of life changes can cause loneliness, boredom, anxiety, or depression. In fact, according to a large number of research studies, depression in older adults often aligns with seniors drinking an unhealthy amount of alcohol.

People who drink daily do not necessarily have alcohol use disorder. Conversely, not all individuals who misuse alcohol or have alcohol use disorder drink every day. But heavy drinking, even occasionally, can have harmful effects on seniors (and people in other age cohorts).

How Alcohol Can Impact Senior Safety

Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can lead to dangerous or even deadly situations for seniors, according to the National Institute on Aging. Senior safety is at risk because alcohol consumption can impair a senior’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This increases the risk of falls, car crashes, and other accidents. As mentioned previously, alcohol can impact a senior differently than was the case in the past.

Alcohol is a factor in about 30 percent of suicides involving seniors. It is also a factor in approximately 30 percent of fatal automobile accidents involving seniors. In addition, 40 percent of fatal burn injuries, 50 percent of drownings, and 65 percent of fatal falls among seniors involve alcohol.

In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls. Such accidents can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries. Older people have thinner bones than younger people. Their bones break more easily.

Adults of all ages who drink alcohol and drive are at significantly higher risk of traffic accidents. People who drink even a moderate amount are at higher risk for traffic accidents, possibly resulting in injury or death to themselves and others. As an aside, it is important to note that even without alcohol, car accidents’ risk increases starting at age 55. In addition, senior drivers tend to be more seriously injured in car wrecks. Alcohol adds to these age-related risks.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder is a broad term that describes problem drinking behavior. It can range from mild to severe and is diagnosed when someone meets specific criteria outlined in the DSM-5.

Some common symptoms of Alcohol use disorder include but are not limited to the following:

  • Drinking more alcohol or for longer than intended
  • Wanting to cut down or stop drinking but being unable to do so
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking in situations where it’s unsafe or inappropriate, such as while driving or at work
  • Continuing to drink even though it’s causing problems in relationships or making life difficult
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning, you need more and more to feel its effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety

Do You Need to Cut Down on Alcohol Use?

You may be like many good seniors and wonder if you may be drinking a bit too much. The National Institute of Aging has prepared a list of reasons why you might want to consider reducing the amount of alcohol you consume:

  • Keep your high blood sugar (diabetes) under control
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Keep your liver working as it should
  • Avoid legal trouble or hurting yourself or others by drunk driving
  • Lessen the chances you will fall and hurt yourself
  • Feel less sleepy or sick the morning after you drink
  • Get back to enjoying the things you used to do
  • Stop feeling embarrassed about how you act when drinking
  • Prevent damage to relationships with friends and loved ones

Strategies for Seniors to Cut Back on Alcohol Consumption

A considerable number of seniors decide to quit drinking in later life. Some strategies can help a senior to cut back or stop drinking:

  • Count how many ounces of alcohol you are getting or using in each drink.
  • Keep track of the number of drinks you have each day.
  • Decide how many days a week you want to drink.
  • Plan some days that are free of alcohol.
  • In place of alcohol, try drinking water, juice, or soda. You could also try nonalcoholic mocktails or low-alcohol beer.
  • Remove alcohol from your home.
  • Ask for support from your family
  • Get advice from your healthcare provider.
  • Get professional assistance if you are having problems controlling your alcohol consumption.

In conclusion, there are some important benefits to seniors in decreasing the amount of alcohol consumed on a regular basis. As discussed previously in this article, limiting alcohol can help improve your physical health by reducing your risk of health issues and accidents. Additionally, limiting alcohol can help improve your mental health by reducing your risk of developing depression or anxiety.

Finally, limiting alcohol may actually help to improve your social life by reducing your risk of developing relationship problems and other issues.