By Erica Streit-Kaplan
Public Health Program Coordinator
Needham Department of Public Health
With the population of those ages 65 or over increasing rapidly in both Needham and the United States, alcohol abuse among older adults is a serious and growing problem. Alcohol abuse among older adults gets less attention than drinking among young adults, but older adults actually are at high risk of alcohol abuse and related health problems.
Some older adults engage in binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while binge drinking is more common among young adults ages 18–34, of those age 65 and older who report binge drinking, they do so more often—an average of five to six times a month.
Family members, caregivers and friends may resist seeing that an older adult is abusing alcohol due to stereotypes about aging or infrequent contact. In addition, some doctors shy away from this issue due to lack of training. According to a report by the American Medical Association, "They may deny that the patient has a drinking problem, or be reluctant to make a diagnosis, because they are uncertain about how to treat the disease or because they question whether treatment is likely to be successful with this age group."
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are special considerations facing older adults who drink, including:
1. Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol—Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.
2. Increased Health Problems—Certain health problems are common in older adults. Heavy drinking can make these problems worse, including:
- High blood pressure
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver problems
- Memory problems
- Mood disorders
3. Bad Interactions with Medications—Many prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Medications that can interact badly with alcohol include:
- Cold and allergy medicine
- Cough syrup
- Sleeping pills
- Pain medication
- Anxiety or depression medicine
Be Proactive in your Health and Wellness
If you have a health problem or take certain medications, review your alcohol intake with your primary care provider.
If you are concerned about your alcohol use or think that a loved one may have a drinking problem, help is available. For counseling and support resources contact the Needham Public Health Department at 781-455-7500 ext. 259.
For more information on alcohol, contact the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline at 800-327-5050. Educational information is available at http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/, and an anonymous screening tool can be found at http://www.alcoholscreening.org.