Some people are under the notion that alcohol abuse is limited to young adults, but many older adults abuse drugs and particularly alcohol. Younger people are more likely to abuse illicit substances and older adults are more likely to abuse prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and alcohol. This blog will focus primarily on alcohol. Substance abuse has to do with taking a substance despite its negative impact on one’s health and the social consequences that come with taking it. This is about addiction and doing things regardless of how it hurts you or others.

With older adults and alcoholism, this is not about the individual who has an occasional drink with dinner or friends. This is not necessarily about the individual who consumes one drink a day. When we’re talking about elderly alcohol abuse, we’re talking about the individual who consumes 14 or more drinks per week. Having a glass of wine here and has been shown to be beneficial for health,  but having 2 or more drinks a day can bring on certain cancers, hypertension, immune system disorders, cirrhosis of the liver, damage to tissues and organs, brain damage, cataracts, and other conditions or diseases.

Older adults may drink to stimulate the feelings of happiness and pleasure that come with the release of endorphins in the brain. Drinking alcohol, even if not excessively, can interact with herb, prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications. Alcohol seems to be the most abused drug for older adults, and they can be served better when we recognize signs of alcoholism. You may notice that older adults may drink to cope with depression, become irritable when sober, smell like alcohol, take medications with alcohol or slur their speech. Maybe you notice changes in those who experience empty nest syndrome, boredom after retirement, loss of friendships, death of a spouse or have health complications.

Know that there are treatment programs available to help individuals to stop drinking alcohol such as Alcoholics Anonymous. There are senior specific rehabilitation programs for those who need help. Talk to a friend and/or a healthcare provider for assistance. It’s not too late to start recovery!