Many adults drink regularly with few problems, but when they’re over 60 drinking the same way they used to can lead to serious problems. There are nearly 8 million alcoholics in the U.S., and an increasing number of them are senior citizens.
Spike in Senior Alcohol Use
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates 80,000 of alcoholics are seniors. The state of Wisconsin has recently seen higher rates of senior alcohol use, heavy drinking, and binge drinking than the previous year. A study has found:
- 56% of seniors have had at least one alcoholic drink in the past 30 days.
- 9% of seniors report binge drinking.
- 6% report heavy drinking.
Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks in two hours for women and five or more drinks for men. Heavy drinking is defined as eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Dangers of Increased Senior Alcohol Use
While heavy and binge drinking can be dangerous for people of any age, senior citizens are particularly vulnerable. Older people may have slower reaction time and decreased alertness and coordination, which heavy drinking worsens.
Reasons increased alcohol use among seniors can be dangerous include:
- Drinking increases fatal falls.
- Seniors are the heaviest users of prescription medications. Alcohol interactions with medications can be fatal.
- Drinking puts seniors at greater risk of injuries.
- Alcohol worsens health problems such as high blood pressure, liver problems, heath conditions, and diabetes.
- Alcohol consumption makes driving more challenging for seniors with vision problems or slow reflexes.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Keep an eye out for these signs of alcohol abuse in yourself or seniors you know:
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability when not drinking
- Drinking to forget worries
- Hiding drinking habits
- Lying about drinking
- Increased injuries
- Alcohol caused financial and medical problems
- Often having more than one drink every day
- Needing more alcohol to feel good
Women are more likely to become alcoholics late in life, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Why is There a Rise in Alcohol Use Among Senior Citizens?
As we age, we tend to live less pubic lives, so senior drinking may go unnoticed. Doctors may mistake some symptoms of alcohol abuse, such as falls, depression, failing memory, and sleeping problems, with typical signs of aging.
Different people may have different reasons for drinking. After retirement, senior citizens have more time and fewer responsibilities. This can cause a feeling that they have lost purpose in life, leading to depression and drinking. Boredom, stress, loneliness, and uncertainty can also cause people to drink more. Alcohol problems earlier in life can worsen as you age.
Sensitivity to alcohol has been found to increase with age, and seniors tend to have decreased tolerance for alcohol. It’s recommended that seniors do not have more than one drink per day.
Seniors are likely to stick with treatment, so they have good chances at recovery if they seek help. Friends and family of seniors with a drinking problem can help:
- Visit him or her more often and listen to problems and concerns
- Evaluate difficulties he or she is struggling with
- Help him or her deal with losses or other underlying causes of increased drinking
- Watch for behavior changes and increased injuries
- Research local support groups and treatment programs for seniors
- Help him or her begin a treatment program
- Consider an intervention if you suspect alcoholism
Feelings of loneliness and helplessness. Increasing health problems. Deaths of friends and family. As the population ages, there are many reasons why more seniors are turning to alcohol. But now that the problem is receiving more attention, resources and programs can be implemented to help senior citizens struggling with alcohol.
Food and beverage servers are often on the front lines of increased alcohol use. That is one of the reasons it’s so important for servers to be properly trained. Learn2Serve is an excellent resource for convenient online responsible beverage server training. Enroll today.