Senior Health Series: Aging and Alcohol Use and Abuse

Anyone at any age can have a drinking problem . Great Uncle George may have always liked his liquor, so his family may not see that his drinking behavior is getting worse as he gets older. Grandma Betty was a teetotaler all her life-she started having a drink each night to help her get to sleep after her husband died. Now no one realizes that she needs a couple of drinks to get through each day.

These are common stories. The fact is that families, friends, and health care professionals often overlook their concerns about older people's drinking. Sometimes trouble with alcohol in older people is mistaken for other conditions that happen with age. But alcohol use deserves special attention. Because the aging process affects how the body handles alcohol, the same amount of alcohol can have a greater effect as a person grows older. Over time, someone whose drinking habits haven't changed may find she or he has a problem.

Facts About Alcohol and Aging

Some research has shown that as people age they become more sensitive to alcohol's effects. In other words, the same amount of alcohol can have a greater effect on an older person than on someone who is younger.

Some medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, ulcers, and diabetes, can worsen with alcohol use.