Alcohol addiction among older adults. This image shows an older lady with grey hair holding a glass of red wine with both hands. She is sat on a brown sofa and is wearing a pink top and pale blue jeans

Alcohol Addiction In Older Adults

Alcohol Addiction In Older Adults.

Alcohol addiction among older adults is a subject rarely written about. It’s a situation usually associated with younger people, especially those in the public eye. However, this is an also issue affecting many older adults.

Physical & Social Changes

Ageing brings physical and social changes. These changes might increase the vulnerability of older adults to alcohol abuse. Alcohol is the drug most used by this age group. They may perceive it as one of their few guilty pleasures in life. Some throw caution to the wind either because they feel neglected or because they want to enjoy the later years of their life. They may also think that they are in the latter stages of life and why worry. Something will get them eventually! However, it does lead to a multitude of issues.

 Physical and Psychological Health Effects

It’s harder to know if an older person is addicted to alcohol. This is because many live isolated lives with few friends and away from loved ones. Additionally, they may have more than one caregiver. A recent loss of a loved one, especially a spouse, can easily trigger an addiction. Trying to drown their sorrow and numb the pain with alcohol. 

Rising Addiction

There is a disturbing rise in alcohol addiction among older adults. The NHS is spending more on alcohol treatment for the elderly as compared to young adults. Among the alcohol-related hospital admissions, two-thirds are above the age of 55. The alcohol-related death count has also been growing and is at an all-time high for the past few years. 

Perils of Addiction among older adults.

Elderly people are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of alcohol. With age, the capability of the body to fight off toxins decreases and alcohol tolerance levels decline. Health conditions and medications may also have an impact on how strongly alcohol affects them. Nearly 60 diseases are linked to alcohol consumption.

Additionally, alcohol abuse in this age group is a major contributor to many suicides, drownings, falls, burns, crashes, and even attacks and murders. Alcoholism can severely jeopardise the health of older adults.

Detrimental Physical Effects of Alcohol for Older Adults

  • Alcohol can exacerbate existing diseases and conditions including diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.
  • In later years, alcohol takes longer to move from the liver to the bloodstream. This makes the liver more susceptible to damage. Alcohol can cause liver problems like cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and fibrosis.
  • Alcohol addiction can damage the heart, leading to issues like stroke, cardiomyopathy, and arrhythmias.
  • Drinking alcohol can compromise the immune system. An older person who consumes alcohol regularly becomes an easy target for diseases. 
  • Alcohol can interact with medications and intensify the side effects. In severe cases, this may prove fatal. Many common medications interact dangerously with alcohol. 
  • Drinking alcohol can affect reaction times, eye movements, and coordination. These effects may lead to falls and car accidents.
  • Alcohol can irritate the GI tract, and potentially cause alcoholic gastritis and ulcers. It also suppresses appetite. 
  • Alcohol abuse can cause several types of cancer. 
  • Drinking alcohol frequently can cause pancreatitis that could worsen in time causing permanent damage. 
  • Alcohol negatively affects bone health. It can lead to osteoporosis. 
  • In the worst-case scenario, alcohol addiction could lead to fatal alcohol poisoning.

Effects of Alcohol Addiction on the Psychological Health of Older Adults

  • Alcohol misuse severely impairs learning abilities and memory capacity.
  • It can exacerbate existing psychiatric issues including depression and anxiety.
  • Alcohol can confuse, and lead to hearing voices and dementia.
  • It can increase negative feelings and lead to mood disorders.  
  • A condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a common complication resulting from alcohol abuse. It is also called ‘wet brain’, and is caused due to thiamine deficiency. Misuse of alcohol is a leading cause of this deficiency.

Aid the Recovery Process 

It’s more challenging to identify symptoms of alcohol abuse among older people. Symptoms, even though visible, might mistakenly be attributed to other causes like medical side effects or delirium. Individuals will probably not admit that they need help because of shame or denial. They may have previously experienced unsuccessful treatments or relapses.

People in this age bracket may feel they are too old to recover from alcohol addiction. If you are a caregiver, a loved one, or a friend of someone you feel needs help, asking for help from alcohol rehab is the first and most important step.

By the affected person understanding that treatment can be as effective for them as it is for young adults, recovery from alcohol addiction can be achieved in later life.


Award-winning blogger and former care columnist for Devon Life magazine. I am passionate about helping elderly people and people with dementia live purposeful and independent lives.
Designer of the Dementia Assistance Card and Points Of Light award recipient, Caron hopes to help carers when resources are limited and demand is ever-increasing. I am here to support you.

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