Alcohol and Older Adults

– Brian Coon, MA, LCAS, CCS, MAC, Director of Clinical Programs

Given the continued advancement of the Baby Boomer generation into later adulthood, it is interesting to consider how safe drinking and risky drinking levels are defined for older adults. Drinking guidelines for older adults (age 65 or over) who are healthy and do not take medications, are to not have more than 3 drinks on a given day, and not more than 7 drinks in a week (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Obviously, health problems and medications can make drinking alcohol at any amount more problematic. But the NIAAA points out that as a person ages, their sensitivity to alcohol can grow – increasing the risk of falls, car crashes, and other accidents. Likewise, alcohol/medication interactions are a concern.

The free booklet from the NIAAA titled “Older Adults and Alcohol” is readily available online.

When an alcohol use disorder is present, the support and encouragement of one’s family, friends, or spiritual community might not be enough to remain stopped once a decision to stop drinking has been made. For some people, the added support of a recovery-oriented group of people is helpful. This can take many culturally-specific forms, including faith communities, 12 step groups, or support persons affiliated with the person’s specific work life profession.

If professional addiction treatment is needed, it is important to consider mobility issues, print size of written materials, and other everyday/practical topics when looking for the possible fit of an addiction treatment provider for an older adult. For example, in a residential program one might take room location into consideration – for ease of walking to a nurse’s station, cafeteria, or group room.

But in helping older adults, many times their personal support people and even professional providers might not spend enough time listening. Taking time, one might hear concerns related to being alone, feeling like a burden to others, the significance of the life they have thus-far lived, shame related to their drinking or being identified as “in recovery” from drinking, or even end of life concerns. Older adults often discuss their fears and anxieties when they feel safe to do so, especially concerning the loss of their spouse.

The pace of change is important, as is the pace of help when it is needed.

If you have a concern about the drinking of an older adult, consider reviewing the information available at NIAAA as a place to start.