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Alcohol Use in Seniors

Excessive use of alcohol at any age is always bad, but this is especially the case in older people. Alcohol acts differently in older people, an example being that a “high” feeling can be obtained without an excessive amount of alcohol. This feeling can easily lead to accidents, including car crashes and falls.

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In fact, drinking large amounts of alcohol over a period of time can potentially:

  • Cause various types of cancer, brain damage, liver damage, and immune system disorders
  • Makes some health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers, and osteoporosis worse
  • Causes some people to become forgetful or generally confused, signs that could be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease

Alcohol combined with Medicines

Alcohol can combine with many medicines (prescription, over-the-counter, herbs) to form deadly concoctions, that are extremely dangerous to the human body. A large number of older people take medication daily, which makes this problem especially dangerous. Before you take any kind of medicine, it is strongly advised that you ask your doctor, or pharmacist if that medicine can be safely combined with alcohol.
Some dangerous combinations of alcohol and medicine:

  • Taking aspirin with alcohol has a risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding
  • Cold and any allergy-related medicines (antihistamines) causes drowsiness when mixed with alcohol
  • Acetaminophen (painkiller) with alcohol can cause liver damage
  • Numerous medicines including cough syrups or laxatives contain high alcohol content, so when mixed with alcohol, will greatly increase your alcohol intake
  • Sleeping pills, anti-depression pills, or painkillers combined with alcohol can be fatal

Limits on Alcohol Intake

As you probably know, different people have different reactions to varying amounts of alcohol, some people requiring more alcohol than others to get a “high” feeling. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that older people (aged 65 or greater) should not have more than seven drinks a week, and no more than three drinks on any given day. If you are on any kind of medication, or have a medical condition, it may be wise to not drink at all.

When does Drinking cause Problems?

There are people who drink heavily for many years, with little effect on their health, while others experience extreme consequences when doing the same. Typically, drinking over a lifetime causes a drinking problem later in life for an individual, especially when major life changes hit (losing a loved one, failing health, etc), and they drink to ease their depression. If you or a loved one has a drinking problem, or know someone who drinks more than three drinks in a single day, you should seek help from a medical professional.

Where to Get Help

1) If you should stop drinking due to health problems or medication

  • Ask your doctor if there is another medicine that can work for you
  • Find a trained counselor who knows about alcohol problems
  • Use group therapy, or whatever works best for you
  • Find a support group for older people with alcohol problems

2) If you need to cut back drinking in general, due to older age

  • Count the amount of alcohol you drink each day and keep track
  • Plan ahead and decide exactly how much alcohol you’re going to drink in a week
  • Always eat something when you drink, as alcohol enters your body more slowly this way
  • Ask for support from friends or family

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