Why are Older Adults, Particularly Women, Drinking More Alcohol?

Have you gone too far?

Alcohol affects older women more than older men. While fewer women drink as they age, particularly those born earlier in the 1900s, those from later generations that drink have been drinking for longer periods of time, probably because there was less stigma attached to it. If you don’t believe there is a problem with women drinking, the statistics prove otherwise: According to Robert Jimison of CNN, 47.5% of women age 60 and older drink alcohol.  This is an increase of 10% from 20 years ago, and it is quickly closing the gap between female and males.  The figure for men is 59.9%.  That is only 12.4% more than women.

According to an NIH publication, women are just as likely to be admitted to a hospital for alcohol-related problems as they are heart problems. Increasing numbers of women are being admitted for accidents, including falls with broken bones that occurred while they were drinking.  Why is this?  Older women, a group known to take more antidepressants for their mood disorders, risk more when they add alcohol to their routine. Mood disorders include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and others.

As seniors age, there are ever increasing problems with their using alcohol.  Older adults have less water in their bodies and this creates a higher concentration of alcohol. In other words, it does not take as much alcohol to get high as it once did and the higher concentration produces higher blood alcohol levels, more so in women.  In addition, alcohol is not metabolized as well in older people. These problems are magnified by using alcohol with many drug types, diseased states, and the fact that their bodies can no longer tolerate the amounts they used in the past.

 

Don't Go There!

 

Call for Help!Alcohol poisoning may occur and caregivers need to be aware of the symptoms:  Slowed heart rate and breathing, low body temperature, loss of consciousness, vomiting, poor reflexes, and confusion. A person may vomit after loss of consciousness.  If that occurs and the gag reflex has disappeared, the person will likely aspirate on the vomit and die. That is sufficient reason to call an ambulance if someone passes out.

Evidence that someone may be headed in that direction is being tired, not eating, not sleeping properly, slurred words, and confusion.

 

Why do seniors drink more alcohol?

Many seniors live alone and are not actively participating in any activities that would provide them with some self-expression.  Unfortunately, they stay at home and feel absolute loneliness, unwilling to make friends or to seek membership in organizations that would provide an outlet for socialization. Maintaining friendships has been shown by many to have one of the most positive effects on aging.  Watching the video below will provide more enlightenment about the causes of alcohol use and abuse in older adults.

 

 

 

 

What happens when they drink with certain medications?

Muscle relaxants

Side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, weakness, and problems with judgment or thinking can occur.

 

Pain Killers

Using alcohol with pain medicationsPills + Alcohol = Problem can cause severe problems.  Not only does alcohol adversely affect the liver, painkillers containing acetaminophen, such as hydrocodone, affect it as well.  The risk of liver damage increases substantially when using the two together. The brain, pancreas, and heart may be affected by excessive alcohol use.  Other problems that may occur as a result of using alcohol with painkillers include slow and shallow breathing, shortness of breath, tiredness,  clotting problems, constipation, high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, tolerance, death, breast cancer and mouth and throat cancer.

 

Antidepressants

Alcohol and antidepressants do not work too well together either.  Drinking reduces the effects of antidepressants and may actually increase your anxiety or depression. Adding other medications to the mix, like pain or sleeping pills will almost surely make things worse.  This could create an overdose or exaggerated symptoms of many problems.

Combining alcohol with MAOIs, such as Marplan and Nardil,  prescribed for major depression, Parkinson’s, and other illnesses is especially dangerous and can cause serious spikes in blood pressure.

Alcohol taken with antidepressants can also cause drowsiness and sedation and affect your ability to think and react.  The following reactions may occur if you use alcohol with melatonin, a sleep aid: breathing problems, drowsiness, becoming dizzy and losing consciousness.

 

Other Medications  

Sleeping pills, cold and allergy drugs, acetaminophen, aspirin, and cough syrup also interact with alcohol, causing severe problems.

 

What about the impact of alcohol on certain diseases?

According to the National Institutes for Alcohol and Abuse, there are a number of diseases that are made worse by alcohol.

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Memory problems
  • Mood disorders

 

Diseases caused by too much alcohol.

  • Liver diseases
  • Pancreatitis
  • Increases the risk for certain cancers
  • Brain Damage
  • Intestinal problems
  • Affects the immune system which allows infectious diseases to occur

Are you willing to risk any of these?

 

Free Yourself With Knowledge

What can you do about it?

Get help.  Remember that you will respond to treatment in the same way a younger person would, so don’t discount treatment.  Talk to your doctor. He will guide you to an appropriate place.  If you cannot afford treatment, your doctor can also advise you of those agencies that have a sliding scale method of payment based on income.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that people ages 65 and older have only one drink per day.  Talk with your doctor about this and about using any of the above medications with alcohol.

Thank you for reading this important article.  I would like to know if you found this article on alcohol helpful or if you have any suggestions for others.  Please use the Comment Section below for your responses.

 

18 Replies to “Why are Older Adults, Particularly Women, Drinking More Alcohol?”
  1. Hi thanks for writing this post. I found it very informative.
    It never occurred to me that close to 50% of all women over 60 drink alcohol. That is actually a high number. 60% of men over 60 drinking is a high number as well.
    As our bodies age our ability to safely absorb these chemicals goes down and the problems go up. We need more articles like this one.
    I agree that simply staying at home and withdrawing from society could be a major factor as to why people are drinking more. Unfortunately it is a complex problem and I don’t have a simple answer for you. Thank you for sharing this and making more people aware.

    • Hi, Glenys, and thanks for reading my article. You are right that there are no simple answers. One of mine is to educate women who don’t know that they may be playing with fire when they drink too much or when they combine drinking with pills.

  2. This touches home for me.

    I cannot put my finger on it, but last year I lost my Mom to issues with alcohol.

    I would never say she was an alcoholic, she wasn’t. If she did not have it, she was not bothered. But as a rule she consumed too much!

    I only realized when it was too late. She had the symptoms you mention here, especially mood swings. It was only later on when all of her legs started to swell, and she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.

    I think we all like to have a drink here and there, and I guess a little once in a while maybe even does us some good.

    Drinking to excess though is a killer, and it needs to be monitored.

    Thanks for this advice. Since what happened to my Mother, I have never touched a drop!

    Chris

    • Hi Chris,

      I am so sorry to hear about your mother and appreciate you acknowledging that she was a victim of alcohol use. Cirrhosis is a terrible disease to die with. Unfortunately, older people do a lot of binge drinking. Too much alcohol at one time can be deadly in and of itself.

      Good for you that you don’t feel the need to use alcohol.

      Tanya

  3. Hi Tanya, thanks for this article. Yes indeed alcohol dependency can be tricky to identify in women as we are “taught” to be more contained, plus it is so hard to look inside yourself and admit that you have a dependency.
    Though I am not over 60…yet, and I never thought myself as an “alcoholic” I used to drink 2 glasses of wine every night, and it might not seem much, but your body does develop a dependency on it, so much so that cutting down to one glass every 2 or 3 nights was really hard to do!
    So yes, alcohol dependency is very subtle and sly….one needs to know to be honest with him/her self!
    I was not aware of all the changes that happen in our bodies as we get older – especially the part of not retaining water as much as when we are young…that was an eye opener!
    Thanks for this informative post!
    Cheers – Orion

    • Hi, Orion, and you are welcome. I was happy to write the article and learned a few things myself in the process. It never occurred to me that almost half of women over 60 are using alcohol.

      Tanya

  4. Hello there,
    is a very interesting and educative article. make me sad that so many people end up drinking so much, harming their own bodies. It is so sad that so many don’t like their real lives and try to escape by drinking and forgetting the loneliness , problems and depression.
    Along with the proper medical help i think the best solution is to find a reason to cherish your life, to love your every day moments…And believe me, there is always something to be thankful for, something that worth living for.
    Thanks for sharing and i hope A LOT of people will read the problems the occurs because of the alcohol. And most of the times, you don/t hurt only your self, you heat and destroy the lives of people close to you, loved ones:(
    Have a good day
    Cristina

  5. Christina, I appreciate your reading my article. We need to reach out to women who are in this predicament so that they can learn to avoid the dangers. You are right that proper medical help is needed. It would be helpful if medical personnel o administered a short survey to patients that present with symptoms consistent with too much alcohol use. They could then be referred to the appropriate person for help.

    Tanya

  6. Thank you for such an informative article. I was not nor am I aware of this current trend. That is unfortunate for those that fall into this situation. This surprises me but then again, I have not really seen that among the people and family that I know. I guess we are lucky that this isn’t an issue. Perhaps if there were other ways of communicating alternatives this might off set it from beginning. Thank you Tanya.

    • Xavier, thanks for reading the article. One of the reasons for starting this site was to communicate alternatives for a variety of things that people get misinformed about, don’t quite understand, or just don’t know about at all. Women are very good at hiding their problems with alcohol, especially in families where use is low or unheard of because there is more of a stigma there. I am certainly grateful that so far your family is in the clear.

      Tanya

  7. I have heard about more seniors drinking too much but I just assumed it meant men. So, this article took me by surprise. It is sad that so many seniors are living alone and turn to alcohol to try and solve their issue.
    Thank you for a very informative article that all younger adults should read so they understand what is going on with seniors.

    • Hi Curtis, and thanks for reading my post.  Yes, it was very revealing to me also that women were drinking more.  Husbands often die before their wives, leaving the wives feeling very empty.  This can turn to feeling isolated, so it is helpful for friends to support her.  Other women have been divorced and never remarried. They feel like a sore thumb among married couples. My next post will cover some of this and other problems that contribute to increased drinking for both men and women.

  8. I am so surprised at the statistics. I’m an older woman but haven’t had alcohol in years. I now am wondering if any of my friends are suffering from too much alcohol consumption and I just didn’t know. Because of your article, I am going to reach out to those friends that I know are alone and perhaps drinking in silence. Thank you so much for your excellent article. I know it will help a lot of people.

  9. Hi Brenda,

    I am happy that you read the article and really glad that you plan to reach out to others. It is not easy to gain this type of information from women, as they are usually ashamed of their behavior and reluctant to discuss it. What is alarming to me is that there are many who don’t show up at hospitals and are omitted from the statistics unless they participated in research studies through their doctor’s office.

    Tanya

  10. Hello Tanya,

    This is a very informative and needed post. Drinking may go unreported in older women, who may be reluctant to admit they drink because of the stigma attached. I think this is what happened to a beloved aunt of mine when I was younger.

    She was a lovely soul who was very kind to everyone she met, so no one had reason to believe she was an alcoholic. I always suspected that something was wrong, but it was the kind of insight that “kids” have –that something is off balance– but you’re too young to understand what was happening. All I knew is that my beloved aunt who everyone said was “fine” seemed very lonely and sad to me. I couldn’t understand why the “adults” couldn’t see what was obvious.

    Anyway, I lost my Aunt years later when alcohol destroyed her liver and her will to live. I always felt if she had not feared the stigma and had asked for help she be alive today.

    I thank you for bringing this topic to the open. Perhaps more women like my late aunt will get help.

  11. So sorry to hear about your aunt. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said she was lonely. Thabo, SAMSHA–the government agency for substance abuse and mental health has a hotline for family members and friends of suspected abusers to call that will offer substantial help with identifying the symptoms of abuse and with making suggestions. That number is 1-800-799-4889. Being lonely and sad can create many problems for people. They need to reach out.

    Tanya

  12. This is a great post. It hits the nail on the head. I did not realize that so many women had a drinking problem. What is really sad is most people will not a mint that they have a problem. This makes things real hard on there loved ones.

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