Alcoholism and the Elderly. Does Age Matter?

Alcoholism and the Elderly. Does Age Matter?

Alcohol dependency can develop at any age – but several researchers are exploring whether those over 60 might be at a higher risk for developing a problem.

In one such study[i], researchers looked at gender and age-specific trends in older Americans from 1997 through 2014.

Their findings?

As the years increase, alcohol abuse increases – particularly among women. They found that the rate of alcohol use disorder in those over 60 increased by 107% during the study period.

Another study published in Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research[ii]
in 2020 suggests that people 50 and older have seen increases in alcohol consumption relative to younger age groups.

How does one define consumption that rises to the level of abuse?

According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

One clear sign of a problem is the consistent consumption of five alcoholic drinks daily.

So, who is most at risk?

Well, several risk factors may help predict a drinking problem as we age. They include:

  • Family history: If you have or had a family member with a history of alcoholism, you may be at a higher risk of abusing it yourself. There is evidence that there are genetic components to the problem.
  • Depression and other mental health issues: Evidence suggests that if you suffer from chronic depression or struggle with persistent anxiety, you may be at a greater risk of becoming alcohol dependent.
  • Prior alcohol use: If you were a regular consumer of alcohol when younger, you have an increased likelihood of abusing alcohol as you age.

Are there specific events that can trigger alcohol dependency? Yes. Researchers point to several. They include:

  • Retirement. Turns out that retirement can be a major trigger – particularly if retirement is forced or early. Some find that retirement brings feelings of boredom, isolation, and worthlessness, leading to depression and alcohol abuse.
  • Loss of a loved one. Losing a partner or old friends often increases an older person’s sense of isolation and despair, leading to depression and alcohol abuse.
  • Chronic pain. It has been widely reported that chronic pain is a significant contributor to the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic. Chronic pain is also known to trigger alcohol dependency.

Why does all this matter?

According to Harvard Health Publishing,

“Older adults have increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol because they typically metabolize alcohol more slowly. Lean body mass also declines with age, and with less muscle to absorb alcohol, older adults feel the effects of alcohol more quickly, even with the consumption of lower amounts of alcohol than when they were younger. Older women are at higher risk of these effects compared with older men.”[iii]

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol and need help in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana, the recovery teams at Aware Recovery Care are here to help. And we come to you, regardless of where you live. Our unique in-home treatment model of care gives clients a significantly better chance of recovery compared to traditional inpatient rehab care.

[i] Breslow, R. et al., Trends in Alcohol Consumption among Older Americans: National Health Interview Surveys, 1997–2014. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 May; 41(5): 976–986.

[ii] White A, Castle I, Hingson R, Powell P. Using death certificates to explore changes in alcohol‐related mortality in the United States, 1999 to 2017. Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research. 2020 January 7; 44(1): 178-187.