Alcohol Use Among Older Adults
Our senior years are often considered a time of rest and reconciliation. It is our golden years when we earn our well-deserved retirement.
This is very true for many of us. However, another side of being a senior citizen is being ignored by the rest of the world. It is considered a “silent epidemic” among an ageing population. This epidemic is the growth of alcohol addiction in older adults.
Worldwide, this is seen as a growing and troubling phenomenon. On average, the population is getting older as healthcare gets more advanced, and more options for treatment and life-extending technologies are available.
The average life expectancy in the world now is 71.5, up by two years from just a few years ago. While it varies by nation, it is continually on the rise.
The problem with alcohol use and abuse among older adults becomes even more significant in light of that.
Current estimates are that between two and four per cent of people over 65 have a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. Of those, 10-15% did not even start drinking with any frequency until they reached that age group.
At the same time, four per cent may seem like a small percentage, but remember that the fastest-growing age group currently comprises people aged 65 and older. This percentage will translate into a larger and larger number of senior citizens with severe drinking problems and needing help.
Increased health problems
While alcohol abuse is not suitable for any age group, it is tough on the minds and bodies of older adults.
Drinking is often comorbid or comes in connection with other illnesses.
That means seniors often drink to cope with physical, mental, or social problems. This could be as simple as loneliness and isolation to depression or long-term severe illnesses in an ageing population.
Understanding this makes the connection between drinking clear, but it also exacerbates these issues. Alcohol only functions to change the person’s mental state and does not improve anything.
That means that conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, cancer, depression, and dementia will be ignored and worsened.
Alcohol use not only exacerbates conditions but it also causes damage in and of itself. It can result in severe and permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.
Older adults are often most vulnerable to health concerns, with dementia and other cognitive concerns caused by alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse also leads to breathing difficulties and weakens the immune system. This can cause even worse problems as opportunistic infections and other issues arise, like pneumonia.
Not many start drinking, thinking it will cause their death, but this is a genuine concern for older adults.
What defines an addiction
It’s evident that alcohol abuse is a problem, but let’s take a moment to define what alcohol addiction is. For older adults, it is often difficult to get a good diagnosis. Often, alcohol addiction is not seen in seniors because people don’t look for it. It is thought to be misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed as a result. This could result from misconceptions about drinking in this age group, not wanting to think of older adults as being addicted, or not understanding that addiction can strike that late in life.
Increased sensitivity to alcohol
The diagnostic criteria for alcohol addiction are the same as for any age group. A list of symptoms revolves around the effect of drinking on the individual’s mind, body and social structure. The more symptoms, the more serious the addiction is.
The possible symptoms include:
- Alcohol is often taken in more significant amounts or over a more extended period than intended.
- Cravings or chronic desires to drink.
- Spending more time is spent drinking, getting alcohol, or recovering from drinking.
- Being unable to stop drinking or cut down, even when trying.
- They fail to successfully fill significant life roles, like at work, volunteering, family, or other areas of life.
- Continued drinking despite problems within relationships as a direct result of the drinking.
- Giving up on primary life functions, social events, or other previously enjoyable or regularly attended activities.
- Drinking in situations where it is dangerous, like drinking and driving.
- Continued drinking even when it is known that drinking is causing or worsening health problems.
- Showing signs of tolerance, it takes more alcohol to get the same level of intoxication as before.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drinking stops.
How alcohol affects safety in older adults
In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, resulting in hip or arm fractures and other injuries. Older people have thinner bones than younger people, so their bones break more easily. Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.
How older adults get help
Now, not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms. But, if you or someone you love shows two or more of these symptoms, it is vital to reach out for help, especially if your loved one is age 65 and over.
While this is a dire situation, help is available to anyone who wants to recover from their alcohol addiction. The first thing is always reaching out for help. This is often the most challenging part, but trained staff will make this smooth and comfortable. For older people, inpatient treatment is always recommended when alcohol addiction is the issue. Inpatient treatment can provide stability and monitoring for people with complicated cases, multiple health issues, or dual diagnoses with mental health concerns. They may not have as severe of a drinking problem as others, but their age puts them at risk of severe complications requiring more intensive treatment. Talk to us today for free help and advice on how to find the inpatient treatment that is the best it can be for you or your loved one.
Alcohol use among older adults is a rising concern that healthcare professionals must address. This requires more attention paid by professionals, friends, and family to drinking among our senior citizens, often considered a”silent epidemic.” This must stop. Drinking is a serious, life-threatening issue that can be avoided. You can help. If you or someone you love shows signs of alcohol addiction, reach out for help now.