Alcohol Problems In Older Adults
Many people use alcohol. Most drink moderately throughout life without developing a problem, while others have a lifelong history of abuse–and still others begin drinking later in life for a number of reasons.
Every person who develops a problem with alcohol has a unique set of reasons why it happens, often making it difficult to pinpoint a specific event or cause. Retirement, loss of relationships, poor health, and physiological changes are just a few of the stressors that can lead to an alcohol problem.
Sometimes, the older adult looks at alcohol as their only friend; it keeps them from being alone; it helps deaden emotional and physical pain; and it fills time. As people age, the physiological response to alcohol changes: a 70-year old body cannot tolerate alcohol the way a 30-year old body can. As we lose lean body mass, the amount of fat increases and the amount of body water decreases, which means alcohol is metabolized at a slower rate and stays in the body longer. People who used alcohol in moderation all their life may develop alcohol problems in later life, even if their drinking hasn’t increased.
Recognizing an alcohol problem is the first step in treating it. Many times behaviors or changes in older adults go unnoticed because they are attributed to the normal aging process. Changes in drinking patterns, behavior, and physical condition may be indicators of a problem.
The following checklists may help you determine if there is a need for concern for yourself or someone you know. One sign is not necessarily meaningful, but a cluster of them may be a “red flag” that there is a problem.
Changes In Drinking Patterns
- Is the person drinking a larger quantity than previously?
- Is the person drinking more often than previously?
- Is the person drinking at different times or places?
- Is the person drinking in the morning?
- Is the person increasingly drinking alone?
- Does the person organize activities around drinking?
- Do you smell alcohol on the person’s breath or in the room?
- Does the person make excuses about drinking?
- Is the person secretive or protective of the alcohol supply?
- Does the person sneak drinks or make his or her drinks stronger?
- Does the person drink despite health problems?
- Does the person become visibly intoxicated?
- Is the person unwilling to talk about his or her drinking?
- Does the person often regret or not remember things he or she said or did while drinking?
Changes in Behavior
- Neglects personal appearance and hygiene
- Neglects home, bills, pets
- Cigarette burns on clothing, furniture or self
- Excessive use of perfume, mouthwash, breath spray, or breath mints
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Increased irritability, agitation, anxiety
- Unreasonable resentments
- Appears depressed
- Loses interest in activities and people
- Neglects eating-empty cupboards
- Withdraws, stays home
- Calls at odd hours
- Bruises, especially on arms and legs and at furniture height
- Frequent car accidents or erratic driving
- Falls asleep during conversation
- Frequent falls
Changes in Physical Condition
- General physical deterioration
- Slurred Speech
- Weight gains or losses
- Skin changes (skin becomes sallow or flushed)
- Yellow or bloodshot eyes
- Leg cramps
- Blurred vision
- Hypertension (especially if no previous history)
- Urinary incontinence
It may be difficult to accept that you or a family member or a friend has a problem with alcohol, but the sooner recovery begins, the quicker the damaging effects end.
If you think you or someone you care about may have a drinking problem, there is treatment available. The Seniors in Recovery Program at The Alliance Business Center is a unique program within the Health Alliance dedicated to treating chemically dependent adults 60 and older. It is an age specific, Medicare-approved program that addresses the needs of the older adult population whose alcohol use may be triggered or complicated by general life changes, death of a spouse or child, chronic illness, and changing memory and mental status.
The program consists of four elements: Evaluation, Stabilization, Treatment and Support. It involves eight weeks of intensive outpatient treatment, with inpatient detoxification treatment available if needed. Support groups, weekly aftercare, senior Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and individual case management are all available to help keep the patient sober.
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