• Julie Katz

Alcoholism & Older Adults: Society's dirty secret

I was in the grocery store the other day and an older gentleman was in front of me in the check out. He purchased enough alcohol for a small fraternity party, although I doubt he was hosting a large party himself.

Alcoholism in the elderly is a dirty little secret that doesn't get enough press.  Older adults may drink in private, especially if they live alone, and those around them may be slow to notice it is a problem. Without holding a job and driving less frequently, years can go by before anyone notices a problem.

Sometimes a drinking issue when younger becomes a problem when people have less responsibility and structure once retired. Depression, loneliness or boredom can also lead to more drinking.

Alcoholism can cause many problems in older adults including:

  • Increased falls

  • Medication interactions

  • Driving impairment

  • Memory issues

If you see any of these issues and you suspect the person is drinking, the first thing to do is to have a non-accusatory discussion. Try to find out the root of the problem so you can help figure out a solution. The solution may be as simple as getting the older adult more involved in outside activities or as complex as addiction treatment. 

Regardless of the cause for increased alcohol consumption, do not ignore it and tell yourself they are just 'sweet old people' enjoying themselves.

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