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Alcohol Guidelines for Older Adults

Article at a glance

  • Alcohol use among older adults ages 50 to 80 has steadily increased, with two in three adults drinking occasionally in the past year.

  • Following alcohol guidelines for older adults is important to ensure you’re drinking in moderation.

  • It’s essential to be careful when drinking while taking prescription medications, as alcohol can increase any side effects you may experience.

  • Older adults are more prone to balance issues, which alcohol consumption can worsen.

  • Understanding signs of alcoholism in older adults is important so that you know when you or a family member needs professional help.

The University of Michigan’s National Poll of Healthy Aging indicated that alcohol use has increased among older adults, with two in three adults aged 50 to 80 drinking occasionally in the past year. While moderate drinking can work for some older adults, others face potential complications and increased side effects due to their overall health status and prescription medications. Understanding alcohol guidelines for older adults and signs of alcoholism in older adults is important as you decide whether alcohol consumption is right for you. Read on to learn more about drinking in moderation as you age.

Consider Your Prescriptions

Prescription medication and alcohol consumption can negatively interact with each other. So, it’s important that you’re aware of any potential side effects that may occur when you drink while using prescription medication. In some cases, mixing medicine and alcohol can be dangerous or even result in deadly complications. Other potential side effects include drowsiness, lightheadedness, or an inability to concentrate. These side effects are even more apparent in older people who break down alcohol at a slower pace.

So, always check your prescriptions to determine whether it’s safe to have a drink while taking them. Read the label carefully, and make sure you avoid alcohol if it is recommended. It’s always smart to be cautious and simply avoid drinking when you’re on prescription drugs. If you have any questions, contact your doctor or pharmacist before drinking.

Know Your Risks

Alcohol consumption in older adults can be especially risky for a number of reasons. Understanding these risks is important. Older adults have an increased sensitivity to alcohol, meaning they have a lower tolerance. So, the two glasses of wine that you used to drink at dinner may affect you differently as you age. Older adults are also more likely to become dehydrated after drinking alcohol. Also, seniors often face more health problems, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, liver problems, and high blood pressure, and alcohol can worsen these health issues. As a result, drinking can negatively impact your overall health.

Alcoholic dementia, or alcohol-related dementia, is a condition that results in memory problems, an inability to stay focused on a task, and trouble solving problems or achieving goals. People with this condition may also be unsteady and struggle with balance and be irritable or depressed.

Be Aware of Your Mobility

Alcohol can impair your mobility and balance, which puts you at a heightened risk of falls. Older people, too, are at increased risk of bone fractures because their bones weaken over time. So, drinking could make you more susceptible to injury. If you do drink, be aware of your mobility and consider drinking only when supervised so that you’re not alone should an injury occur. Many older adults face mobility issues, whether they’re simply slowing down, experiencing pain, or even requiring the use of mobility aids to move around comfortably.

Understand CDC Alcohol Guidelines for Moderation

Drinking in moderation is important at any age, but older adults, in particular, need to be careful about how much they drink. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as one alcoholic drink per day in women and two drinks per day in men. One drink is considered a 12-ounce beer, a 5‑ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Consider drinking water and waiting between alcoholic drinks to help limit consumption.

While these guidelines to drink in moderation may work for healthy older people, some individuals should refrain from drinking because of their current health status. For example, the CDC suggests that anyone with certain medical conditions or who take prescription drugs that could interact with alcohol should avoid drinking entirely. Additionally, anyone recovering from an alcohol use disorder, such as an elderly alcoholic, should avoid drinking to maintain their health.

Recognize the Potential Risks of Drinking too Much

As you age, the way you react to alcohol can change. So, even if you were a moderate drinker during your adult life, you may notice that your body cannot handle alcohol in the same way as you get older. A variety of risks exist when you drink, so be aware of them as you decide whether moderate drinking is appropriate for you. Some potential risks include:

  • Feeling the effects of alcohol more quickly without increasing alcohol consumption.

  • Struggling with balance, which can result in a fall or fracture.

  • Relying on alcohol to cope with stressors in your life, such as the loss of a spouse.

  • Feeling down or depressed after drinking.

  • Feeling forgetful or confused after drinking. 

Drinking too much alcohol can also have long-lasting effects on your overall health. It can lead to cancer, liver damage, or even brain damage after extended periods of drinking excessively. Also, conditions such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes can worsen due to drinking too much.

Know the signs of Alcoholism in Older Adults

Understanding signs of alcoholism in older adults allow you to determine when you or a loved one may need help. Alcohol use disorder is marked by binge drinking or consuming four drinks for women and five drinks for men in just a few hours. Older adults who feel a strong need to drink, drink even though it interferes with everyday life, feel like they should stop drinking but don’t know how, and experience anxiety or depression when drinking may have alcohol use disorder. Talking to your healthcare provider can help you determine the best treatment for this condition.

Alcohol guidelines for older adults vary depending on your current health status, your history with alcohol, and the side effects that you experience when drinking. It’s important to consider any health conditions you may have and the prescription medications you take before having a drink. If you aren’t sure about whether you should be drinking, it’s always smart to talk to your doctor about your concerns. Plus, if you are currently drinking and would like help stopping, your healthcare provider can point you to the right resources to do so. 

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