How Drinking Affects Seniors

Generally, people drink less as they grow older, however, some continue to drink the same amount or even more as they age. This can be problematic as it can lead to people developing drinking patterns and problems with alcohol during their later years.

A number of issues can pop up later in life that can make someone reach for the bottle. For example, a reduced income, declining health, the passing of a loved one or friend, and loneliness are all examples of instances that may give someone the urge to drink. While drinking may not have been an issue for someone when they were younger, age causes alcohol to have different effects on the body that can cause problems for some older adults.

Aging lowers the body’s tolerance for alcohol which will put seniors at higher risks for things like car crashes and other unintentional injuries like falls. Because of this, it is important to understand how alcohol affects older individuals.

Alcohol and Seniors

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 40 percent of adults 65 and older drink alcohol. This is not a problem if it is done in moderation and boundaries are not pushed. However, seniors can still run into problems if they are taking certain medications or have health problems.

Some health issues are common among older individuals and heavy drinking, or even moderate drinking, can exacerbate these problems and lead to disastrous side effects. You should avoid extended alcohol use if you have one of the following health problems:


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


Similarly, medication can cause issues if you pair them with alcohol. You should not use alcohol if you are using the following medications:


  • Cold or allergy medication
  • Cough syrup
  • Sleeping pills
  • Pain medication, especially opioids
  • Anxiety or depression medication


Using alcohol with medications like these can amplify the effects and lead to serious and harmful side effects.

Recommended Drinking Guidelines For Seniors

Even if you do not have these issues and aren’t on these medications, drinking excessively, for anyone, not just seniors, is a bad idea. The NIAAA recommends that people over the age of 65 should not drink more than three drinks on a single day and no more than 7 drinks in a week. They warn that drinking more than this amount will put seniors at risk of “serious alcohol problems.”

Alcohol Risk For Seniors

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are defining levels of alcohol use for older adults: low-risk, at-risk, problem use, and alcohol dependence.


As you can tell from the name, low-risk alcohol use generally down not lead to a problem as a person can put reasonable limits on alcohol use and know when to not drink. This category of people also does not engage in binge drinking.


While this category of people does not have health problems that are caused by their drinking problems, if their habits continue, problems can result. These people will normally drink more than seven to 10 drinks a week or drink in a risky situation.

Problem Use

This category refers to people who have a level of alcohol use that has already caused certain health consequences. It should be noted that because of the impact that alcohol can have on seniors, problem use could refer to people who do not drink above the recommended limit but still are exposed to harmful consequences as a result of alcohol use.

Alcohol Dependence

As one might be able to guess, alcohol dependence is the most serious problem and can lead to a number of health consequences. This type of alcohol use is characterized by loss of control, continued use of alcohol despite consequences and mental and physical symptoms such as tolerance and withdrawal.


Whatever the case may be, whether you are a low-risk drinker or are completely alcohol dependent, being cognizant of this and understanding the problems associated with alcohol use is the first step. For some, it is best to seek out help from family or a medical professional is the problem is serious enough.

Luckily, there are many alcohol treatment centers available to help people who are dealing with some sort of alcohol use disorder. Rehabilitation centers and treatment can be effective in helping someone overcome their substance abuse issues. Getting help, especially for alcohol abuse, is important as there are a number of dangerous, and potentially life-threatening, symptoms involved with alcohol withdrawal. Treatment centers can provide patients with access to medically supervised detoxification to help them overcome the physical symptoms of newfound sobriety and allow them to focus on the behavioral aspects of treatment when the time comes.

If you notice that you or a loved one is dealing with some sort of alcohol use issue, it may be best to seek professional help.

About The Author

 Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, an Indiana treatment center. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for the Boston Consulting Group before he realized his true passion lies within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.


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Written by HealthStatus Crew
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