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Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol Abuse

The information below is taken from the National Institute on Aging website,

Facts About Aging and Alcohol

Uncle George's and Grandma Betty's Stories

Anyone at any age can have a drinking problem. Uncle George always liked his liquor, so his family may not see that his drinking is getting worse as he gets older. Grandma Betty was a teetotaler all her life until she started having a drink each night to help her get to sleep after her husband died. Now, no one realizes that she needs a couple of drinks to get through each day.

These are common stories. The fact is that families, friends, and healthcare workers often overlook their concerns about older people drinking. Sometimes trouble with alcohol in older people is mistaken for other conditions related to aging, for example, a problem with balance. But, how the body handles alcohol can change with age. You may have the same drinking habits, but your body has changed.

Alcohol may act differently in older people than in younger people. Some older people can feel "high" without increasing the amount of alcohol they drink. This "high" can make them more likely to have accidents, including falls and fractures and car crashes. Also, older women are more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol.

Drinking too much alcohol over a long time can:

  • Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage
  • Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss and mood disorders
  • Make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat-for example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.
  • Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused-these symptoms could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Alcohol and Medicines

Many medicines - prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal remedies - can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Many older people take medications every day, making this a special worry.

Before taking any medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can safely drink alcohol. Here are some examples of problems caused by mixing alcohol with some medicines:

  • If you take aspirin and drink, your risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding is increased.
  • When combined with alcohol, cold and allergy medicines (the label will say "antihistamines") may make you feel very sleepy.
  • Alcohol used with large doses of acetaminophen, a common painkiller, may cause liver damage.
  • Some medicines, such as cough syrups and laxatives, have high alcohol content. If you drink at the same time, your alcohol level will go up.
  • Alcohol used with some sleeping pills, pain pills, or anxiety/anti-depression medicine can be deadly.

How Alcohol Affects Safety

Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can lead to dangerous or even deadly situations. Drinking can impair a person's judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This increases the risk of falls, household accidents, and car crashes. Alcohol is a factor in 30 percent of suicides, 40 percent of crashes and burns, 50 percent of drownings and homicides, and 60 percent of falls. People who plan to drive, use machinery, or perform other activities that require attention, skill, or coordination should not drink.

In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, which can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries. Older people have thinner bones than younger people, so their bones break more easily. Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.

Adults of all ages who drink and drive are at higher risk of traffic accidents and related problems than those who do not drink. Drinking slows reaction times and coordination and interferes with eye movement and information processing. People who drink even a moderate amount can have traffic accidents, possibly resulting in injury or death to themselves and others. Even without alcohol, the risk of crashes goes up starting at age 55. Also, older drivers tend to be more seriously hurt in crashes than younger drivers. Alcohol adds to these age-related risks.

In addition, alcohol misuse and abuse can strain relationships with family members, friends, and others. At the extreme, heavy drinking can contribute to domestic violence and child abuse or neglect. Alcohol use is often involved when people become violent, as well as when they are violently attacked. If you feel that alcohol is endangering you or someone else, call 911 or get other help right away.

The information below is taken from Alcohol Rehab Guide

Alcohol Abuse Among Seniors

Alcohol consumption among older adults in the U.S. has grown steadily over the past couple of decades. Between 2002 and 2006, an average of 2.8 million adults over the age of 50 suffered from substance use disorders, including alcoholism. By 2020, that number is projected to double, totaling roughly 5.7 million seniors.

Drinking problems among those entering their golden years are sometimes overlooked or even misdiagnosed. The symptoms of depression - insomnia, mood swings and anxiety - can mirror the warning signs of alcoholism. Substance abuse screenings are rarely part of annual physical exams, making it more challenging to detect the early signs of a potential drinking problem.

There is sufficient evidence that even brief interventions delivered in medical-related settings can have a positive influence on reducing problem drinking among most older adults. These interventions can include screening for signs of depression in individuals with long-term health problems, engaging the individual in a conversation about the risks of problem drinking, and providing a referral for brief alcohol-related treatment.

Orion Mowbray

(pulled from UGA Today)

The only way to eliminate the risk of developing a dependence on alcohol during your senior years is to quit drinking. There are numerous rehab facilities throughout the country that specialize in senior alcohol abuse. Treatment physicians are able to carefully monitor a patient's withdrawal symptoms during detox, as well as help them overcome future urges and triggers.

What Causes Bad Drinking Habits Later In Life?

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to alcoholism in the elderly. As a person ages, they may face major life changes such as solidarity, financial difficulties and deteriorating health.

Several situations that may lead to excessive drinking in older individuals include:

  • Empty nest syndrome (when children grow up and move away)
  • Loss of friendships due to moves, health complications or death
  • Deteriorating health conditions (cardiovascular disease, vision/hearing loss and diabetes)
  • Traumatic events like a spouse's illness or death
  • Sadness after downsizing a home
  • Boredom from retirement or lack of socialization

Alcohol is a depressant
These substances affect the brain's neurotransmitters, which are responsible for behavior and emotions. When a person drinks, endorphins are released in the brain that stimulate feelings of pleasure and happiness. A dependency on alcohol can lead to an array of problems down the road that impact not only the elderly, but those around them.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism in The Elderly
Alcoholism can affect a person of any age, ethnicity, faith or background. However, certain factors like chronic drinking, gender and medical history can increase the risk of senior alcohol use.

Chronic drinkers - those who habitually consume an excessive amount of alcohol - make up a large number of seniors who struggle with alcoholism. In fact, roughly two-thirds of older adults who have a drinking problem are chronic drinkers. Chronic drinking can sometimes start in early adulthood and persist throughout an individual's golden years. Other times, a person may achieve sobriety, but relapse down the road.

As individuals enter their senior years, women are more likely than men to develop dangerous drinking habits. A number of studies are being conducted to determine the cause of this shift in recent trends.

Frequent drinking greatly increases a woman's risk of developing health complications such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and liver disease. Additionally, a growing number of women are experimenting with binge drinking. This involves consuming four or more alcoholic beverages in a two-hour time period. Between 2005 and 2006 alone, binging among senior women rose 44%.

Chronic health conditions, which are long-term diseases that worsen over time, can also increase the risk for elderly alcohol dependence. Recent studies suggest that seniors suffering from multiple chronic conditions are roughly five times more likely to have a drinking problem. The most common chronic conditions among seniors include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

Statistics of Senior Alcoholism

In the United States, widowers over 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism. Every year, an estimated 6-11% of hospital admissions among seniors are related to alcohol or substance use. Heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking account for nearly 21,000 deaths each year among those ages 65 and older.

Signs Of Alcohol Abuse In Seniors

Family members, caregivers and friends are generally the first people to recognize a loved one's drinking patterns. Warning signs of alcoholism should never be overlooked or dismissed as nothing to worry about. When left untreated, dangerous alcohol patterns can lead to an array of physical and emotional troubles.

Some common signs of alcohol abuse in seniors include:

  • Drinking to cope with loss or depression.
  • Consuming alcohol with prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Becoming agitated or irritable when they're sober.
  • Exhibiting signs of drunkenness, such as slurred speech and the smell of alcohol on their breath or clothes.
  • Lying about how many drinks they've had.
  • Hiding or stashing liquor bottles where they can't be found.
  • Putting themselves or others in danger due to their drinking habits.

Harmful Effects of Senior Alcoholism

Alcohol consumption during your golden years can trigger both short- and long-term side effects. As a person gets older, their ability to metabolize alcohol at a normal rate decreases. The longer that alcohol stays in a person's system, the more damage it can cause. Even the smallest amount of alcohol can have serious consequences.

One of the biggest health risks among seniors is mixing medications and alcohol. Older adults commonly take multiple prescription and over-the-counter drugs each day to manage chronic health conditions. Some medications, however, can produce a negative effect when mixed with alcohol. For example, antidepressants have side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, blurred vision and dizziness. When combined with alcohol, these effects are exacerbated and can lead to high blood pressure, dangerous falls, heart problems or liver damage.

The only way to prevent alcohol from damaging your mind and body is to quit drinking entirely. It's not worth the risk. There are numerous alcoholism resources available to help you learn about the disease and take the necessary steps toward sobriety.

Treatment Options for Alcoholism in the Elderly

Roughly four out of every five older adults who are treated for substance abuse disorders are struggling with a drinking problem[CG10] . However, more seniors are seeking treatment for alcoholism than ever before.

Patients with late-onset alcoholism generally have greater resources and family support, are more likely to complete treatment and have somewhat better outcomes than patients with early-onset alcoholism.

Pulled from: American Family Physician

Unfortunately, the stigma of alcoholism can prevent many older adults from getting help. If you are concerned about an elderly family member or friend's drinking, it's highly beneficial to have a conversation with your loved one about their options.

Interventions conducted with the help of an alcohol counselor can prove extremely successful in many cases. Around 90% of individuals who have undergone a professionally staged intervention commit to seeking treatment. The support from others often motivates a person to quit drinking and work toward sobriety.

The recovery process is different for everyone. The type of recommended program, as well as the length of treatment time, depends on many variables. These can include the severity of an individual's alcohol dependency, age and current health. Most seniors will need to go through the detox phase first to eliminate alcohol completely from the body. Since this can involve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, detox should only be done under the care of treatment providers. After detoxing, seniors are able to transition into other types of therapy that focus on maintaining sobriety and preventing future triggers.

Ready to Get Help?

There are countless alcohol-related programs that are designed specifically for seniors. It's never too late to get help. Make a commitment to be healthy and alcohol-free during your golden years.

Contact a treatment provider today to get more information on your options.