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Thought Leadership

​The Epidemic of Alcoholism in the Older Adult Community

Since April is Alcohol Awareness Month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss an alcohol-related topic that desperately needs more attention – older adults and alcohol.

Growing older can be a gratifying time for many adults; however, these same “golden years” can be filled with anxiety, uncertainty, loss, and profound loneliness. These issues can sometimes lead to an increase in drinking. What many people are unaware of, however, is that as people age, they begin to react to alcohol differently. For instance, older adults metabolize alcohol at a quicker rate and can become intoxicated faster; one glass of wine at dinner may now make them tipsy.

Because of these changes, as people age, they may not be aware that their drinking has become a problem. To complicate matters more, symptoms of alcoholism can sometimes be misidentified as signs of the aging process, so the issue is left untreated. It is important to be able to identify when an older adult may have a drinking problem. Here are some signs older adults may be drinking at an unhealthy level:

  • Increased alcohol tolerance
  • Loss of interest in activities that they used to find enjoyable
  • Justifying the amount they’re drinking as the only time they can relax or escape the chaos
  • Isolating themselves, retreating to their bedroom to drink, for example
  • Illnesses with little to no signs of improvement. Prolonged sickness and exhaustion can be related to alcohol use
  • Poor physical or home environment appearance
  • Unexplained falls or bruises
  • Complaining about insomnia

As people age, they also deal with many health issues, such as depression, chronic pain, or sleeping problems, for which they are prescribed multiple medications. With a lower tolerance level and the opportunity to mixing alcohol with medications, a potentially lethal combination, older adults risk becoming addicted to both substances. Additionally, the mixture of prescription medications and alcohol could lead to an unintentional overdose, which is the second leading injury-related cause of death among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Too many older adults struggle in silence, often without family or friends to witness the warning signs of addiction. According to statistics from University of Pennsylvania Health System, 2.5 million older adults are addicted to drugs or alcohol and nearly 50 percent of nursing home residents have alcohol-related problems. It’s important to raise awareness of the dangers alcohol presents to the aging population, which is one of the reasons Caron is investing in a new $15 Million Medical Center to better serve older adults.

It is important to provide age-specific care to the older adults population that will address their issues with a personalized approach. With the proper holistic treatment, older adults can recover from addiction and build a strong community of support through 12-step programs coupled with appropriate therapeutic and medical support as needed. It’s also significant to note that older men and women experience the highest rates of recovery of any age group following treatment.

Share our graphic and help spread the facts. To learn more about our older adults’ program, click here.

Featured Staff
President & CEO
A strong advocate for both research and prevention, Doug Tieman has spent 30 years in the addiction treatment field.