Alcohol Use and Older Adults

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2010, nearly 40 percent of adults age 65 and older drink some form of alcohol. Moderate alcohol intake is a single serving for women per day, and no more than two servings for men per day, according to the National Institute of Health—or NIH—which is a government research-based program that assesses clinical and research data from all across the nation to make recommendations for alcohol use in older adults and seniors.

Alcohol Use and Older Adults

However, the majority of older adults consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol within a given year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control document entitled, “Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 2008–2010” about one in three US adults had 5+ drinks in a single day at least once in the past year, with men being much more likely than women to do this more than 12 times in the past year. White adults were more likely to be heavy drinkers when compared to any other ethnicity.

Adults who had earned a GED were more likely to be heavier drinkers than adults who had graduated from high school. But after high school, the higher education status American adults reach, the more likely they are to consume alcohol as well, with around 77% of individuals with a graduate degree being a current drinker.

In older adults aged 65-74 years, 60% were likely to be current alcohol users. For the age group 75 years and older, that number drops a little—with 48% of older adults using alcohol.

Alcohol and Interactions with Medicine

If you are taking certain medications that make you drowsy or sleepy, you will want to avoid alcohol use completely. Medications such as narcotics used to relieve pain (like codeine and morphine) can make you drowsy, and you should not use alcohol with these types of medications.

Certain antianxiety medications (like diazepam, lorazepam, alprazolam) can also make you somewhat drowsy, and it is recommended to avoid alcohol use in older adults when taking antianxiety medications.

Other drugs that should not be combined with alcohol use in older adults include antidepressants (such as amitriptyline and fluvoxamine).

Certain health issues, such as liver cirrhosis, fatty liver, and kidney disease require the absolute restriction of alcohol use, especially in older adults. Medications that are used to treat diseases like type 2 diabetes, such as metformin, are also not recommended when with alcohol use in older adults.

The Effect of Alcohol as You Age

The effect alcohol can have on us as we age changes with our lifestyle and health status.  The amount of food, body size, and hydration levels call all affect how our body responds to alcohol.  Age plays a role as well, with the health of the liver being the primary reason that it’s important to monitor alcohol use in older adults.  Metabolism can slow in older adults, which means the breakdown of alcohol will be slower, and remain in the system for a longer period of time. When alcohol remains in the body for longer periods of time, it has a greater potential to cause damage to vital organ, such as the brain, kidneys, and liver.

Most of the time, the amount of body water that older adults have is lower than that of someone at a younger age. This means that even though an individual might consume the same amount of alcohol as someone else, the effect will be greater because they will have a higher percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Measuring Alcoholic Beverages

Excessive alcohol intake is associated with increased risk of liver disease and cancer, especially in women.  Moderate intake, or one drink daily for women and no more than two drinks daily for men is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events. This is likely because alcohol can help reduce blood pressure due to the sedative effect, and alcohol can also help thin the blood—helping to reduce the risk of a stroke or blocked blood vessel.

According to the CDC, a single “drink” can take many forms, depending upon the type of alcohol you choose.

In the United States, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. All of the following drinks contain approximately the same amount of alcohol:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey)
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