Alcohol and Aging

No matter what your age, anyone can have a problem with drinking alcohol.

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that your medical provider can screen for, and diagnose when drinking has the potential to become problematic.

In America, there are more than 17 million people that have been diagnosed with an Alcohol use disorder. However, many caregivers and/or family members are unaware of the signs of the disorder. Alcohol use in the elderly population can be broken into two groups — early-onset drinking and late-onset drinking.

Early onset drinking starts earlier in life and continues throughout the years. For 70-year-old James his drinking started when he enlisted in the army. Drinking was what he did to cope with war and continued when he returned home. If you ask his daughter Sarah she would tell you that he loves his Jim Beam. The Vietnam veteran drinks every day.

Late-onset drinking happens later in life, usually in response to stressors such as chronic health conditions, loss of a loved one and depression. Unfortunately, it commonly can become a dependence that shields away from life’s stresses.

Take Micheal for example. He’s is a 67-year-old man whose wife passed away two years ago. Soon after her passing, he started to have a drink or two each night before bed to help him sleep. His son, Marcus, says that his father has been a social drinker all his life, noting that “Dad will have a drink with dinner from time to time on special occasions.” He is unaware that his father is drinking every night and is unable to sleep without it.

Often caregivers or family members mistake the signs of alcohol use disorder as part of the aging process or relate it to the patient’s health concerns. Falls and mood changes are the most commonly overlooked.

Signs of alcohol use disorder could include:
• Loss of coordination/balance
• Memory loss
• Unexplained bruises
• Lack of interest in activities, family and wants to be alone more often
• Lying about their drinking
• Irritability, unexplained pain and depression
• Changes in sleeping habits and hygiene.

If you notice any of the above symptoms you can talk to your doctor and ask for your preventive alcohol screening. If your screening results are positive, your provider can refer you for treatment. Always remember it is never too late for treatment.