Alcoholism And The Elderly

How can I protect my family?

In this article, we will be discussing the problem of alcohol consumption amongst the elderly population along with the adverse effects it has on their health and wellbeing. But before that, let us try and understand what an addiction actually means.

The American Psychiatric Association explains addiction as, ‘A brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.’

So, first and foremost, we see that it is important for us to accept addiction as an illness just like heart disease or cancer. It should not necessarily be considered something people prolong to do as a conscious choice. In fact, those who are suffering from addiction of any sort, often find themselves participating in it repeatedly, thinking it impossible to stop themselves on their own and without help.

One such addiction that has been finding its way into the lives of many people is excessive alcohol consumption.

What makes matters complicating is that it is not always easy to spot symptoms of alcohol addiction. People suffering from it might be hiding in plain sight or functioning alongside us on a daily basis. In fact, usually, minor signs of the addiction—like red eyes, loss of balance, or mood swings—might be getting attributed to the stress of daily life. This often leads to people underestimating and therefore ignoring the problem of alcoholism amongst family members, friends, and colleagues. For example, you might have a relative who liked a drink and usually kept to himself… But you might have never realized that they were in fact addicted to the drink and could not do without several glasses every day.

What makes spotting an addict even more difficult is that not everyone behaves the same way when under the influence. Some people could be drinking all day but continue functioning effectively in social circles while others may be finding their lives and relationships completely ruined because of the habit. Others may only be partaking in the addiction in solitude and no one would even know about it.

But if you have been suspecting any of your family members of alcohol abuse, be on the lookout for some of these symptoms and behaviors:

  • Short-term memory loss,
  • Regularly bloodshot eyes,
  • Sudden fluctuations in weight,
  • Increased isolation from family and friends,
  • Excuses to drink excessively,
  • Drastic changes in behavior,
  • Reaching-outing for help in any other way, but unable to express clearly.

Alcohol and the Elderly

When it comes to drinking problems, let’s accept that it can happen to anyone at any age. It is interesting to note that almost 10-15 percent of people do not start drinking heavily until they are older in age. You may know of someone whose drinking problem got worse as they aged or someone who was a teetotaler all their life until they started drinking to get over the loss of a loved one and can no longer get through a day without it.

These are common stories. The unfortunate fact is that families, friends, and even healthcare workers end up ignoring the concerning drinking patterns amongst older people. Sometimes alcohol-related troubles like losing balance or loss of memory are misinterpreted as age-related problems, amongst the elderly. 

According to The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, up to 11 percent of elderly hospital admissions are because of drug and alcohol-related issues. This is similar to the rate of elderly people being admitted because of heart attacks, which can also be caused by prolonged alcoholism.  


The Aging Body


The fact is that a body’s capacity of handling the alcohol changes with advancing age. So even if a person’s drinking habits remain the same, they will be affecting the body differently. In most cases, the reactions are worse. Some older people can feel ‘in high spirits’ without increasing the amount of alcohol they drink—and often without even realizing it—which becomes a leading cause of accidents including falls and fractures, and even car crashes. Interestingly, older women are more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol.

What are some of the reasons an aging body has a reduced tolerance for alcohol?

  • Less Muscle to Absorb Alcohol

When alcohol makes its way through the body, muscles work towards absorbing it quickly and a lesser amount of it reaches the bloodstream. However, with aging and the resultant loss of muscles, the alcohol finds it easier to start flowing through the bloodstream.

  • Slower Digestion

Not only do the elderly have lesser muscle to absorb the alcohol, their body is also slower in digesting it. This can be causing serious damage to vital organs and be preventing medications from working properly.

  • Reduced Water Content in Body

Water makes up about 70 percent of a young and healthy body. As we grow older, this content reduces by up to 15 percent—which is a considerable quantity. Lesser water in the system reduces kidney functions, which makes it more difficult for the body to process alcohol. This reduction of water also causes dehydration in an aging body and alcohol contributes towards it.

Increased Risk of Incidents

Along with health issues, alcohol consumption also contributes towards increasing incident risks. Even a small amount of alcohol can lead to dangerous or even deadly situations for an elderly person. Drinking can impair their judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This increases the risk of falling, household incidents, and worst of all, road accidents. 

It goes without saying that drunk driving increases the chances of road accidents by a large margin, for a driver of any age. But the chances are even higher when an elderly person is driving under the influence of alcohol. Older people already tend to have slower reflexes and reaction-times. Coupled with alcohol, their responses would be even slower—which can prove life threatening in case of an accident. According to an article published by the National Institute of Aging, even without alcohol, the risk of vehicle crashes goes up starting at age 55. What makes this even more scary is that older drivers are more likely to suffer serious injuries in case of a crash.

Many concerned families are now choosing to attach simple GPS tracking devices to the vehicles driven by their elderly relatives. These devices are super easy to plug-in and give precise location and safety details of the vehicle, directly on your smartphone’s screen. No matter the distance between you and the car your family member is driving. 

Personal Relationships

Another worrying consequence of alcohol abuse is the strain it puts on relationships with family members and friends. In extreme cases it can also lead to domestic violence (even amongst the elderly). Alcohol is often involved when people become violent. If you feel that alcohol is endangering you or someone else, call 911 or get other help right away.

Medical Hazards

Drinking unwarranted quantities of alcohol can also hamper the effects of medication. Many of the elderly people we know depend on daily medication for simple ailments. And even though it may be common sense to not mix pills and alcohol, a shockingly large number of people ignore this rule. Excessive drinking may even prove fatal in case of an extreme medical emergency or hospitalization. High amounts of alcohol in the blood can make it difficult to diagnose the actual problem or even cause the body to have an adverse reaction to a medication administered by the doctor.

Health Concerns Caused by Alcoholism in Elderly

Age brings about several changes in the body. It is natural for those aging to find themselves struggling with these changes itself. However, adding excessive alcohol to this equation can result in several, and often severe, health problems such as:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney failure
  • Injuries from falls
  • Heart attacks and strokes
  • Liver damage
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Memory problems
  • Mood disorders
  • Severe dehydration

Help is At-Hand

The first thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are several ways to get help if you or someone in your family is suffering from alcohol use disorder; especially as an elder.

The first step is identifying the problem. Once you have identified and accepted it, have an open discussion with someone you trust and get professional help. Those who have been suffering from intense alcoholism might find themselves troubled by withdrawal symptoms if they go cold-turkey. So, it is always advised to seek help from a medical practitioner or a dedicated treatment provider to wean-off the habit.

If an elder member of your family is looking for help, you can start with these few pointers:

  • Give them support and attention:
    Love, care, and support are essential to help anyone suffering from an addiction. If an elderly person from your family is an alcoholic or trying to go sober, they will require unshakable love and support from you.
  • Lookout for them:
    It is important to let a recovering person slowly flow back into regular life. Which means that they might want to go out on their own too. As a family member, it is natural for you to feel concerned in such a situation, especially about the elders. But, instead of sitting and worrying, you can use the power of technology to ensure their safety.

Consider installing a tracking device. Pick a compact one that can be fitted on anything, from the car your elders will be driving to their bags, belts, or even walking sticks. This way, you can always be sure to know their exact location and continue to watch over them without invading their privacy. 

  • Register at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Group:

Support groups like AA are available to guide persons suffering from alcohol addiction and motivate them through relatable stories of others and well-designed de-addiction programs.

  • Find Rehabilitation:

Family members can provide emotional support on a person’s journey back to normal life after an addiction. However, in some cases, professional help may also be required. These days, rehabilitation institutions provide both inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities that can design programs based on an individual’s age and requirements.


Ensure your loved ones’ safety with a Family1st tracking device today!

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