Individuals at any age can suffer from alcohol abuse. However, there has been a recent rise in alcoholism in senior citizens. Many times this alcohol abuse can be overlooked or go unnoticed. It can be mistaken for other health issues or conditions related to old age such as balance problems.
Many seniors fail to realize that the way that their body handles alcohol intake changes as they get older. They may have the same drinking habits, but their body has changed. The same amount of alcohol can have greater effects on someone as they get older. The problem will ultimately get worse as time goes on.
Alcoholism in seniors can either be early onset or late onset. The first category represents seniors who have been heavy drinkers for a majority of their lives. The second refers to those that develop a drinking problem later in life. According to Agingcare.com, “Sometimes this is due to major life changes like shifts in employment, new or worsening health issues, or the death of friends or loved ones. Often these life changes can bring loneliness, boredom, anxiety and depression.” Because of this shift, many seniors turn to alcohol as a way to cope. A drink may help ease stress or pain temporarily, but it is an unhealthy coping mechanism that can quickly turn into alcoholism.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors
Usually the first people to notice that a loved one has a drinking problem are family members, close friends, and caregivers. Symptoms of alcoholism should not be taken lightly. When left untreated, it can lead to a variety of both physical and emotional problems. Some signs of alcohol abuse in seniors include:
- Drinking as a means to cope with depression or loss
- Showing signs of intoxications such as slurred speech or the smell of alcohol
- Hiding liquor bottles
- Lying about how much they drink
- Has hurt themselves or others when drinking
- Becomes irritable or unreasonable when not drinking
- Begins to isolate themselves
Alcohol and Safety
Drinking can impair a person’s judgement, coordination, and reaction time. Because of this, a senior risks falls, household accidents, and car accidents. In older adults, too much alcohol consumption can lead to balance problems and falls which can cause serious injuries. Compared to young people, seniors have thinner bones so their bones are more prone to break.
In addition to physical injury, alcoholism can lead to domestic violence. Many times alcohol is a factor when someone gets violent. If your loved one becomes violent, it is important to call 911 or get help as soon as possible.
Drinking and Health Effects
Alcohol abuse can make currently diagnosed medical conditions worse. High blood pressure, ulcers, and diabetes are just some of the illnesses that can be affected by excessive drinking. Also, many over the counter or prescribed medications can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol.
Heavy drinking over time can lead to certain cancers, pancreatitis, immune system disorders, and even brain damage. Alcohol abuse can cause misdiagnosis because it may mimic other medical conditions. For example, drinking can make seniors confused or forgetful which can be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or dementia. When the real problem is not addressed, it can become worse.
Addressing Alcohol Abuse
Sometimes seniors are quite good at hiding the fact that they have a problem with alcohol. They will bend the truth with both their doctors and their families so many times it may be difficult to spot an alcohol abuse problem in a senior. Many people will simply downplay their drinking habits with their doctor.
However, it is mainly close friends and family who may notice destructive patterns in their loved one and it is therefore up to them to initiate a conversation about alcoholism. This is easier said than done. There is no simple way to bring up alcohol abuse. Staying calm and rational during this discussion may help diffuse the situation and help a loved one open up about the truth of their drinking problem. Ultimately, it is the senior’s decision to seek treatment for their alcoholism.
Once a senior is correctly diagnosed with alcoholism, they can choose to get treatment. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence state, “Treatment philosophies should focus on communicating with these patients in an empathic, respectful manner, with an emphasis on simple and clear communications that take into account cognitive changes associated with aging, both normal and abnormal.” There are some factors to consider when seeking treatment for your elderly loved one. Seniors may have co-occurring illnesses, memory challenges, or are on various prescription drugs. Some options for treatment include:
- Rehab centers where older adults can receive around the clock care
- Individual therapists can help a senior address their underlying problems with addiction
- Addiction support groups can connect people struggling with the same issues and can be a safe place to share their struggles
When Your Loved One Refuses Treatment
Many times, seniors are in denial of their drinking problem and refuse to get treatment. Some believe that it is the only pleasure that they get out of life anymore. If they are competent and do not pose a danger to themselves or others, they can opt out of treatment. Some choices that caregivers have are providing supportive care or personal alert systems. They can also attempt to limit how much alcohol a loved one has access to.
There are two main approaches to an elderly relative or friend who refuses treatment. The first is to walk away from them and maintain little to no contact because they do not want to support their alcoholism. The second is to provide care and support to their loved one no matter how bad their alcohol problem becomes. Whichever you decide is completely your choice, but remember to take care of yourself as well.
There is Hope
Simply because a senior is struggling with alcohol addiction does not mean that they will have this problem until they pass away. There is always hope and there are countless facilities, groups, therapists, and counselors waiting to help your loved one. If you or a senior you know are struggling with addiction, be sure to contact Landmark Recovery. Our drug and alcohol rehabilitation center is designed with the latest in treatment and includes other treatments types besides Alcoholics Anonymous. We are here to help.