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Here's How Alcohol Affects People Differently As They Age

As individuals progress through the journey of aging, understanding the complexities of alcohol consumption becomes increasingly crucial due to its impacts on older bodies.

As people age, their bodies undergo many changes. Some are more impacted by chronic diseases like arthritis or heart disease, but even the healthiest people undergo physical changes that influence how their bodies metabolize alcohol. These changes also affect overall health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, for people aged 65 and older, drinking-related deaths, such as overdoses, rose more than 18% from 2019 to 2020. (Drug overdoses in the same demographic have more than tripled over the past 20 years, which coincides with the growth of the opioid epidemic.)

What Is Different About Aging Bodies?

People with aging bodies experience a decline in muscle mass and an increase in body fat, leading to a decrease in water content. As a result, alcohol becomes more concentrated in the bloodstream, heightening its potency and prolonging its effects, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The liver loses its ability to metabolize alcohol with age, so it stays in the body longer. Older people take medications such as high blood pressure medications can also interact. People get drunk faster, but liver damage also happens faster. People with AUD may end up succumbing to conditions such as alcohol-related dementia.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder in Older People

In addition to physical changes, recognizing the symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in older people is paramount to getting them the help they need. Symptoms may include:

  • Increased tolerance, drinking higher amounts to achieve the desired effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms include shaking, sweating, nausea, or anxiety when drinking is reduced or stopped.
  • Persistent desire to drink or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, drinking, or recovering from the effects of drinking.
  • Continued drinkingdespite its negative impact on physical or mental health, relationships, or social obligations.
  • Neglecting important responsibilities or activities in favor of drinking.
  • Carrying alcohol around in a flask or small “airplane” bottles, hiding or hoarding bottles in their living space.

Older adults with AUD may exhibit cognitive impairments, including memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Mood disturbances such as depression and irritability may also be noticeable.

Seniors, caregivers, and healthcare professionals must remain vigilant and proactive in addressing drinking-related concerns. It is important to encourage moderation at social gatherings or abstinence among heavy drinkers. Staying sober will not only help older people live longer lives but also improve their quality of life on a visceral level.

Drinking and Medications Among Older People

Drinking while taking medications can pose significant dangers for elderly individuals due to several reasons.

Alcohol can interact with many prescription and over-the-counter medications commonly used by seniors, amplifying their effects or causing adverse reactions. These interactions can lead to symptoms ranging from dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea to more severe consequences such as impaired coordination, confusion, and even respiratory depression (which can cause an overdose)

Here are some common medications that interact with alcohol:

  • Blood Thinners: Warfarin, clopidogrel, and aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding if drinking and taking them.
  • Pain Relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen, and opioid pain medications can harm the liver and or cause internal bleeding when mixed with alcohol.
  • Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety Medications: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as sertraline, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline, and benzodiazepines such as diazepam can lead to intensified sedative effects, drowsiness, and impaired coordination when combined with alcohol.
  • Sleep Medications: Sedative hypnotics such as zolpidem (Ambien) and benzodiazepines can cause excessive drowsiness, confusion, and respiratory depression -- an overdose -- if taken while drinking.
  • Antihypertensive Medications: Beta-blockers like metoprolol, ACE inhibitors such as lisinopril, and calcium channel blockers can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels when mixed with alcohol.
  • Diabetes Medications: Insulin and oral hypoglycemic agents like metformin can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) when combined with alcohol, especially if consumed on an empty stomach.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of drugs that should not be taken with alcohol.

Given the potential dangers associated with alcohol-medication interactions, seniors may need to consider abstaining altogether. If they have symptoms of alcohol use disorder, they may need to seek treatment and consider a sober senior living home.

Learn More About Our Sober Senior Living Program

For people who can’t drink, transitioning to a sober senior living facility can provide a supportive environment where seniors receive specialized care and assistance tailored to their needs.

Our senior sober living homes offer medical supervision, counseling, and recreational activities to promote a healthy life without alcohol. This helps them have a rewarding lifestyle that emphasizes their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Contact us to learn more about our senior living programs at (442) 232-2824.


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