For many people, alcohol is enjoyed for social occasions such as with friends and family. However, alcohol can become very addictive and make health problems that you already have worse. It can also cause bad interactions with various medications. Another thing to be careful of is that people can become addicted to alcohol at any age.
Many times, family, friends, and even various health workers may not see the signs of alcohol consumption in older people. This happens because in older adults, doctors can mistake the side effects of drinking for other conditions that are more related to their age, such as issues with balance for example. However, the way your body deals with alcohol changes as you age.
The Effects of Alcohol as You Age
As people become older and have more health issues, they may be prescribed medication. Most of these medications require you to drink less alcohol or fully avoid it. In some older adults, they will feel the effects of it very strongly even if they do not increase how much they drink. The side effects can cause them to fall and even crash their car.
Older adults can start relying on alcohol due to major life changes such as losing a spouse or a loved one, moving into a different home, and even due to major health issues. When these situations happen, they can cause the person to have anxiety, depression, or loneliness, which leads to drinking too much. Not all who drink daily will have an alcohol use disorder, however, if they drink heavily, they can experience some negative effects.
Drinking Can be Damaging to Your Body
When someone drinks too much, they are putting themselves at risk of serious consequences such as health issues and developing an alcohol use disorder.
If you drink too much for a long time, here are some things you may experience:
- Cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage
- Worsening of health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss, and mood disorders.
- It can make it more difficult to diagnose conditions due to changes in the heart and blood vessels. Alcohol may dull the pain that is a warning sign of a heart attack.
- Forgetfulness and confusion which can be mistaken with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
You should be careful if mixing alcohol and medications.
There are many medications that can be very dangerous or deadly if mixed with alcohol. This is a major concern for older adults as they usually take many medications. You should always consult your doctor or pharmacist if you can drink alcohol safely with your medications.
Some dangers you should be aware of when it comes to mixing medications and alcohol are:
- Mixing alcohol and aspirin can cause intestinal bleeding.
- Cold and allergy medicine mixed with alcohol can make you sleepy.
- Acetaminophen mixed with alcohol will cause liver damage.
- Cough syrups and laxatives have high alcohol content and if they are mixed with additional alcohol it will add to the negative effects.
- If you use alcohol with some sleeping pills, pain pills, or anxiety or anti-depression pills they can be deadly.
Alcohol Can Affect your Safety
If you drink alcohol even in small amounts, you can end up in a deadly situation as alcohol can impair your judgement and reaction time. There is always a risk of falling as well as car accidents. If you are planning on driving, using machinery, or doing other activities that involve attention, skill, or coordination, you should not drink alcohol.
Older adults who drink too much are at risk of falling, which can cause serious injuries. Older people have thinner bones that can break easily.
Those adults who drink alcohol and drive are at risk of traffic accidents as their reaction time is slowed down and they cannot process information as quickly. Those who drink even a small amount are at risk for traffic accidents which can cause injury to them and others. Older drivers are at a risk of getting more seriously hurt in crashes compared to younger drivers.
Finally, misusing alcohol can strain relationships with family members and friends. Heavy drinking can cause domestic violence and even child abuse and neglect. When there is excessive alcohol use, usually there is violence. If you think that you or someone else is in danger, make sure to call 911 to get help.
How to Know if Someone is Misusing Alcohol
Alcohol misuse or alcohol disorder is when someone has a pattern of drinking that can cause harm to their health and social relationships. When a person drinks too much at once, it can have negative effects and consequences such as issues with their health. Men should have no more than two drinks a day, and women only one. It is better for your health to drink less.
The meaning of one drink is:
- One 12 ounce can of regular beer, ale, or hard seltzer
- One 8 or 9 ounce can or bottle of malt liquor
- One 5-ounce glass of red or white wine
- One 1.5 ounce shot of 80 proof distilled spirits (gin, rum, tequila, vodka, or whiskey)
It is important to understand these drink sizes so you can use them as a guideline. Drinks may be stronger than you think if the serving size is larger than the standard size. Another thing to keep in mind is that drinks from the same category may contain different percentages of alcohol, therefore, you should always be aware of these percentages and read the label, so you know how much you are drinking.
Cutting Back on Drinking
Many people from all walks of life struggle with cutting back on alcohol. If you or a loved one are struggling, here are some things they can do to cut down on alcohol:
- Talk with their healthcare provider to get medications that may help with abstaining from alcohol. They may also be able to give advice about treatment.
- Talk to a counselor who knows about issues with alcohol in older people.
- Find and talk to a support group with people who struggle with alcohol.
- Do therapy, either individual or as a group with your family.
- Check out different organizations that can help such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Use the available websites and apps that can help track alcohol use and provide support toward drinking less.
- Count the ounces of alcohol that you get in the drink.
- Keep count of how many drinks you have.
- Decide when you want to drink and plan some days to be alcohol free.
- Try drinking other things such as juice, water, and soda.
- Try alcohol free drinks such as “mocktails.”
- Remove alcohol from the home.
- Ask for help from family and friends and your doctor.
- Plan ahead for activities so you are not bored and wanting to drink.
- Do activities that do not involve drinking.
- Remember that you are staying healthy for the important things in your life such as your family.
As you age, your body will change, and it will affect your daily life. Be aware of these changes and make sure you adjust your use of alcohol so you can enjoy the rest of your life as a healthy individual.
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Our caregivers will make sure to reinforce positive behaviors in your loved one which can help them abstain from alcohol. To learn more about our senior care services give us a call at (262) 565-6898.