alcohol abuse and the elderly

Substance abuse is not an act only reserved for younger individuals. Older people have just as much of a risk.

Alcoholism in seniors is one of the most significant and most problematic health concerns in America today.

17% of adults who are over 60 years old struggle with some form of alcohol dependence. And many times, these addictions go unnoticed and, therefore, undiagnosed.

As a result, the problems of alcohol abuse and the elderly often remain untreated.

So if you have a loved one struggling with this matter, then you’re in the right place.

Because in this post, we will be exploring the potentialities of alcohol abuse, why people succumb to it in their later years, as well as what you can do to help.

Facts and Figures on Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly

Among the most frequently abused substances in the elderly, alcohol tops the list. Alcoholism is a severe ailment that has had a detrimental impact on the lives of many senior citizens.

And the unfortunate truth is that alcohol consumption is on the rise.

Alcohol is repeatedly documented as the most commonly abused substance among adults 65 years of age or older. And the effects are ruinous.

And there are many facts, figures, and statistics from countless studies that validate this claim.

These findings have proven — time and again — the adverse health effects associated with alcohol abuse and the elderly, as well as the prevalence of alcohol addiction later in life.

Some of the findings include:

  • 1.6% of elderly people have been confirmed as having an AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder)
  • About 1 out of every 40 senior citizens claim they have drunk heavily within the last 30 days
  • 1 out of 10 seniors have admitted to binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks in two hours) in the previous 30 days

The results are precise. Drinking¬†at a more advanced age is dangerous. But this then begs the question…

elderly alcohol abuse

Why Do Some People Start Drinking in Their Later Years?

Many factors can contribute to AUD among senior citizens. And more often than not, it has to do with the season of life these individuals find themselves in.

Here are a few culprits that can affect the elderly and lead them to drink more:

  • Coping with Pain – As we age, the body begins to decline, causing chronic physical pain. Drinking can become an “escape” for many seniors.
  • Heartache – Losing a loved one is hard at any age. However, this occurrence becomes more frequent the older we get, and drinking can be a coping mechanism.
  • Money Problems – Medical bills, prescriptions, surgeries, etc., can all lead to a dwindling retirement account and can cause the stress that leads retirees to the bottle.
  • Isolation and Seclusion – Older Americans often feel an immense sense of loneliness due to retirement, restricted movability, limited contact with family, etc., and this can all lead to drinking to help them exist

In general, people begin drinking in their later years as a coping strategy for the onset of challenges that come with age.

What Alcohol Addiction Symptoms do the Elderly Display?

Alcohol affects the body a little differently the older we get. Alcohol addiction symptoms tend to become inflated and exaggerated with age.

This is expected as our bodies aren’t as strong and vital in our sixties and seventies as they were in our twenties and thirties.

Below are a few ways that alcohol can impact people as they get older.

Inebriation Occurs Quicker and Lasts Longer

With the passage of time comes the inevitable decline. As people age, everything tends to slow down and regress.

People lose muscle mass. Their bones shrink in density, the cardiovascular and digestive systems both weaken and begin losing their efficacy.

And all of this will lead to alcohol having a stronger and more potent effect on the elderly.

This means that it can be even more damaging.

Intensification of Other Health Concerns

A weakened body due to old age is already vulnerable. However, this becomes even more exacerbated when you throw alcohol into the mix.

If a senior citizen has a myriad of underlying health issues, alcohol will only cause further complications. As a result, life will become much more complicated than it needs to be.

For this reason, it’s essential to be aware of the alcohol addiction treatment options available for the elderly.

Here is a list of ailments that can escalate in severity:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease – Drinking excessively can increase the speed at which Alzheimer’s disease develops. Older people’s cognitive abilities will quickly decline with the overconsumption of alcohol
  • Osteoporosis – This disease that wears out the bones can be accelerated with old age with an increase in alcohol intake
  • Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) – Too much drinking in the elderly also increases the likelihood of hypertension. The strain will put the circulatory system on overdrive and cause heart problems.
  • Diabetes – Controlling the blood sugar levels will become increasingly more challenging when the elderly drink too much, and this can lead to the inflammation of diabetes

These and any other conditions or ailments can transform into a severe threat if heavy drinking is introduced.

Increased Likelihood of Unfavorable Medication Interactivity

Combining¬†drugs with alcohol is never a good idea — regardless of age. And this notion becomes compounded when it comes to the elderly.

And this is sadly ironic because the older one gets, the higher the probability of taking some form of medication.

Whether it’s for pain relief or keeping specific ailments at bay is irrelevant.

When medications comingle with excessive amounts of alcohol, the results can be devastating.

So it’s essential to be on the alert in these types of conditions. Be on the lookout for any adverse reactions due to the mixture of medications and alcohol.

Depending on the type of medication an older person is taking, the responses will vary. However, you may want to be conscious of the following reactions:

  • Allergies, Flus, or Colds – Taking medications such as Benadryl, Clarinex, Tylenol, etc., mixed with alcohol can enhance flu or allergy symptoms in the elderly
  • Anxiety and Epilepsy – Medications like Valium, Xanax, or BuSpar can lead to strange behavior, damaged motor control, and impaired cognitive abilities in the elderly when combined with alcohol
  • Deficient of Focus and Concentration – Mixing alcohol with drugs such as Adderall, Strattera, and Ritalin can impair the attention span and cause drowsiness.

Mixing alcohol with medication can be disastrous. And that’s why spotting it early and taking the appropriate action can save a life.


Why Alcohol Abuse Recovery Is Difficult for the Elderly

It can be very challenging to treat the elderly. This is because of the living conditions that they tend to find themselves in.

Many older and more seasoned citizens usually live alone.

Often, their spouse (as well as their close friends) has passed away. And other relatives are often separated by living in different states — or in some cases – foreign countries.

This can make addiction recovery a complicated process since there aren’t always other people around to help.

In addition to that, many times, the symptoms of alcohol abuse can also be misinterpreted as symptoms of aging.

Therefore, it’s not always a straightforward process to differentiate between the two.

For instance, troubles with remembering things, difficulty staying focused, and bouts of drowsiness can all be placed in the same categories of old age and alcohol abuse.

If that happens to be the case, then you will have to dig a little deeper. Here are a few revealing signs that your older friend or relative may be harboring an alcohol problem.

Indicators of Alcohol Abuse in the Elderly

If you have suspicions, it’s good to trust those instincts. But at the same time, it’s also healthy to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

However, with that being said, there are some things you should be on the lookout for if you are skeptical.

  • They get defensive or angry when you bring up the subject
  • They don’t remember things that have recently happened (within the last month or two)
  • You notice liquor bottles in the cupboards or empty bottles on the counter
  • They disengage from social activities or have a lack of interest in hobbies, pastimes, or passions
  • They ignore taking care of themselves (eating healthy, exercising, personal hygiene, etc.)
  • Depression, fear, and worry seem to consume their thoughts and conversations.
  • They become bewildered and lost in life.

If you find they are pulling back from life and becoming a hermit, that is a red flag and should warrant some investigating.


The Pervasiveness of Alcoholism in the Elderly

The truth is that alcohol abuse is something anyone can succumb to at any age. And it’s an issue that is becoming increasingly more pervasive in today’s society.

According to the NCADD (National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence), up to one-tenth of the elderly admitted to the hospital are there because of alcohol-related problems.

That figure is almost identical to seniors undergoing hospital admissions for heart complications.

Below are a few facts and figures to give you some perspective on the prevalence of this issue:

  • 11% of senior hospital visits are because of alcohol-related problems
  • 14% of alcohol-related admissions are emergency room drop-ins
  • 20% happens to be the rate that older adults are admitted to hospitals due to alcohol

The reason for this growing pervasiveness can be attributed to the commonalities between aging and addiction.

Again, the symptoms of alcoholism and old age are very similar. As a result, it becomes much more difficult to both diagnose and treat the elderly properly.

Understanding Alcoholism in the Elderly

If you have a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse, you don’t have to go it alone. You have options and solutions to assist and help you with this sensitive issue.

But the first step is to gain clarity on what it is your loved one. It is facing.

Yes, the elderly person in question will have to struggle with their addiction to help themselves. But you must also come to a realization as well.

You must internalize that addiction (any addiction) is an illness, an ailment, and not a conscious choice.

With this in mind, it will help you to develop more compassion rather than judgment toward the afflicted person. And this will go a long way.

The illness is not something that the elderly person can drop easily or quickly.

And one of the reasons is because of the…

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawl

Encouraging a sober lifestyle for the elderly is paramount. Being older presents enough challenges as it is. The last thing any senior needs is excessive amounts of alcohol thrown into the mix.

It will take time, patience, and a willingness on both sides to kick the substance abuse to the curb. And this is because of the painful road that often accompanies the addiction recovery process.

One of the most challenging parts is dealing with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. And some of these symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Stomach problems
  • Shaking, trembling, twitching, etc.
  • Anxiety, confusion, and worry

Elderly Alcoholic Treatment Options

Learning that you have alternatives to assist with this problem is very reaffirming. Several methods, such as counseling, therapy, etc., can be of great value as an alcohol addiction treatment method.

And here are a few more to consider:

Slowly Remove the Alcohol Over Time

To lessen the effect of withdrawals, doctors and counselors suggest slowly weaning off the bottle. You can begin by setting up a detailed schedule with the distressed elderly person.

Agree on how many drinks a day they are allowed to have. And each week, that specified number should slowly begin to creep down.

As time progresses, alcohol consumption will lessen, and feelings of self-confidence will increase.

For example, if they have 30 drinks each week, you could set a goal together to decrease their alcohol intake by three drinks every week.

This slow, methodical, weaning process will have the elderly person completely off the bottle within three months. The idea is to do it steadily so that the painful withdrawal symptoms are kept at bay.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Of course, more often than not, these kinds of situations are going to require professional assistance. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group that is available for anyone — young and old alike.

Your elderly friend or relative will be able to share their story in a warm and encouraging environment. Additionally, they’ll also be able to hear the stories of others as well.

And this is valuable because the process of sharing and listening is quite therapeutic.

The group setting allows for safety and camaraderie, which are critical for the healing process.

Furthermore, there are mentors at these meetings as well.

Often referred to as “sponsors,” these individuals are making their way through recovery too, and they can help guide the elderly through their worries, doubts, fears, as well as their urges and impulses.


There are both inpatient and outpatient care options when it comes to rehab. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, let’s take a look at a few of them.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab is set up to have the patient stay at a treatment facility. For the entire duration of their treatment, they will be asked to remain in the amenities provided.

This method supplies patients with the structure they need to recover and reinstate their sobriety.

There are programs to follow, supervision from staff, and guidance from workers.

And by having the assistance of medical professionals, the likelihood of a full recovery becomes much more achievable.

The Benefits of Inpatient Rehab

The elderly will experience many benefits of the inpatient rehab method. Chief among them is the detoxification of alcohol in their system.

Once detox has been accomplished, the patient will begin participating in group activities such as writing, meditation, yoga for addiction recovery, and other self-improvement and self-love acts.

These reflective activities will help the elderly patients better understand themselves as well as their addictions.

And once clarity has been gain in this regard, transformative healing can begin to take place.

alcohol rehab

Outpatient Rehab

There is more freedom and flexibility with outpatient rehab. Instead of having to remain in a facility under the supervision of professionals, the elderly person will have the autonomy to live everyday life.

They will usually visit the facility in the daytime, participate in the activities and programs, and head home in the evening.

Generally speaking, patients will have to commit to the detox process at a facility before attending an outpatient program.

The outpatient care process requires the patient to attend treatment anywhere from 1 to 8 hours in the daytime. During which they will participate in group meetings, reflective activities, etc.

Additionally, a whole host of other services are provided. Things such as chiropractors, medical doctors, and government assistance programs can all be taken advantage of while one is involved in outpatient rehab.

The Benefits of Outpatient Rehab

The patients will have to attend meetings on their scheduled days, but other than that, they are free to live their lives as they choose. This flexibility and freedom is something that inpatient rehab does not offer.

It’s also very affordable. The cost of inpatient rehab treatment will vary from place to place, but it’s usually much more expensive than the outpatient rehab option.

This is due to the apparent fact that fewer amenities and services are being used.

Moreover, the freedom also grants the elderly individual the ability to see family.

And having loved ones being a part of the recovery process is a very crucial element of rehabilitation.


Having your elderly loved one go into therapy is another way to help with their alcohol abuse recovery. The benefits of a mental health expert can go a long way.

Here are a few of the benefits to consider:

  • It helps your elderly loved one feel more confident
  • Allows them to make better, healthier choices
  • Teaches them how to cope with the stresses that drove them to drink in the first place

The advantages of therapy are numerous; however, there are several different therapy options to think about. The list below will help you get a clear view of which is best for your particular situation:


A classic method of simply interacting in a conversation. A session of psychotherapy consists of the patient talking while the therapist attentively listens.

When it comes to alcoholism, the therapist will help the elderly person in question understand how to best deal with their sudden temptations.

These kinds of sessions can typically last a few weeks to a few months.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)

This method helps the elderly to relieve some of the pressures of alcoholism. The general idea behind this form of therapy is to pinpoint disempowering thoughts and behaviors and replace them with positive ones.

The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach focuses more on uncovering action steps to move forward rather than attempting to diagnose a condition.

These action steps may include questioning limiting beliefs, facing fears, developing a plan of action to eliminate alcohol, etc.

CBT has been known to produce incredible results in as little as a handful of sessions.

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)

The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy method is an altered CBT system. It has a primary aim of teaching others how to be more present and live a better life.

Furthermore, it educates people on how to deal with stress in healthy and productive ways and how to control emotions and enhance the quality of their relationships with other people.

Here are a few of the benefits of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy:

  • More tolerant of stress
  • Stronger control over feelings and emotions
  • Higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in personal relationships
  • More mindful and connected to the present moment throughout the day

Regardless of the method used to treat alcoholism, it’s essential to take action as soon as possible. This is a severe problem many seniors struggle with, and without some intervention, the outcome won’t be favorable.

treatment for alcohol abuse

You Don’t Have to Tolerate Substance Abuse

The dangers of alcohol abuse and the elderly is an issue that has become more prevalent over time. It’s a sensitive subject, and therefore, it should be handled with tact, prudence, and care.

Even though your elderly relative or friend is dealing with a world of pain, it doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way or that you should continue tolerating it.

You have options. Some professionals and experts can help.

If you’d like to learn more or have any questions, please get in touch with us today.