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Kendal at Home Blog

How Alcohol Affects Older Adults

Posted by Kendal at Home on June 15, 2017 at 7:30 AM

More women over age 60 are binge drinking. A rechowalcoholaffectsolderadults.jpgent study looked at the rates of drinking among older Americans between 1997 and 2014, and what it found was surprising: The number of women who binge-drink increased about 4 percent each year, while the number of men who binge-drink remained steady.

Study authors speculated the reason for the increase is because many older women tend to outlive their spouses. This, along with having to endure other losses, can lead to loneliness and depression, which can lead to increased drinking.

How Alcohol Affects Older Adults

You might be surprised to discover you feel the effects of that glass of wine with dinner or champagne at a party quicker than you used to. That’s because alcohol can have a different effect on your body as you age, regardless of your gender. 

There is less water in your body as you get older, and when you drink alcohol, it’s not as diluted. This means you could have a higher blood alcohol content than someone younger even if you both drank the same amount.

Here are more ways alcohol affects older adults.

Older adults can develop drinking problems: According to Know Your Limits, major life changes can lead to someone increasing their drinking without realizing it. These include changes like:

  • The death of a friend, family member or spouse
  • Receiving an upsetting medical diagnosis
  • Becoming a caregiver for a spouse or family member
  • Loneliness or social isolation
  • Depression
  • Retirement or a change in life patterns

If an older adult has a drinking problem, it may not be obvious. That’s because the effects of heavy alcohol use can be mistaken for a mental or physical ailment. In addition, older adults aren’t usually asked about alcohol use.

Drinking too much can worsen existing conditions: Too much alcohol can worsen high blood pressure, diabetes, cognitive issues or memory problems.

Drinking while taking medications can be risky: Many over-the-counter, prescription and even herbal remedies can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol. For example, if you take aspirin and also drink, the risk of stomach bleeding increases.

Other medications that could cause scary side effects when mixed with alcohol include:

  • Painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Cold and allergy medicines
  • Sleep aids
  • Medicines for high blood pressure, gout or ulcers

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to consume alcohol with any supplements or medications you’re taking.

What Counts as One Drink?

Most health guidelines for conditions or medication specify the amount of alcohol you should or should not consume. These guidelines constitute one drink:

  • One 12-ounce beer, ale or wine cooler
  • One 8- or 9-ounce container of malt liquor
  • One 5-ounce glass of wine
  • One 1.5-ounce shot of distilled liquor 80 proof or less

It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional if you have concerns about the amount you drink or questions about whether it’s safe to drink.

Nutrition after 50

Topics: healthy aging

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