As we grow older, our relationship with alcohol may change. Even those who have no history of alcoholism or of making poor choices while under the influence may need to reevaluate how much they drink. Alcohol affects older people differently as it often conflicts with common medications. Alcohol can also exaggerate pre-existing health conditions.

Why Elders Respond Differently to Alcohol

There are a few reasons why experiences with alcohol change as we age. Many physical changes in older bodies make a person more susceptible to alcohol. For example, an older person may have less muscle mass, which absorbs alcohol. As we age, we often become less hydrated and can lose weight which may cause a lower alcohol tolerance.

Mixing alcohol with certain medications is dangerous and drinking can make specific health conditions worse, including dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, osteoporosis, and mood issues such as depression.

While falling isn’t a specific medical condition, elders are more likely to fall and more likely to suffer larger health consequences from a fall than younger people. According to, research demonstrates that alcohol is involved in 60% of all falls. So, avoiding alcohol can decrease the risk of falling.

For all these reasons, your loved one’s doctor may recommend they drink less or stop drinking entirely as they age.

How to Spot Alcoholism in Seniors

Of course, just because someone’s doctor advises them to stop drinking, doesn’t mean that they will. Older adults are as likely as anyone to develop alcoholism. In fact, one in ten older adults admits to binge drinking, according to American Addiction Centers.

The challenge is that physical symptoms people commonly face when aging often disguise alcoholism. Balance problems, depression, mental confusion, and slurred speech may be the result of health conditions associated with age, or they may be the result of drinking.

Other signs of alcoholism that may be easier to notice in the elderly include:

  • Drinking in secret, or when they think no one is around
  • Loss of interest in old social activities or hobbies
  • Empty bottles of liquor around the house
  • Changes in appearance and behavior.It’s especially wise to check in on your loved one’s relationship with alcohol when they have reason to be grieving (whether their partner or a close friend has died), or if they have been diagnosed with a new condition.

    If you suspect that your loved one doesn’t understand the risks of drinking at their age, or has developed a problem with alcohol, reach out to them to start a discussion about the topic. You may also find it useful to ask your family doctor for more information and for a list of local resources and social supports.

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