Alcohol misuse is on the increase in adults aged 65 and over

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Christmas is a time when we all want to let our hair down, relax, enjoy ourselves and maybe enjoy alcohol more than usual. As long as alcohol is treated as a toxin that will have an effect on our physical and psychological state, then you will be able to monitor your intake effectively, to ensure that you get home safely and in one piece. Unfortunately, research has found that there is a growing group in our society, who are over indulging in alcohol and seriously putting themselves at risk of numerous risks.

Eileen Fegan talks about the silent stigma attached to older people drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. In this article, Eileen adopts the World Health Organizations (WHO) definition of Older People as anyone aged 65 years or above. Currently in the UK, we have 11.4 million people over the age of 65 years.

Older people are drinking a lot more alcohol now than ever before. The increase in alcohol misuse among older adults has increased dramatically in the last few years and almost half of all adults (5 million) in the UK over the age of 65, consume alcohol. Problems associated with alcohol use among older people have been described as a hidden problem, because of the stigma attached to it.

There are numerous reasons while those aged 65 and above begin to drink alcohol on a daily basis and these can include;

  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Retirement
  • Boredom
  • Los of friends and family
  • Ill health
  • Decreased mobility
  • Stressful life events
  • Financial difficulties
  • Being in pain

According to Health day, “It’s all individual. You might begin drinking more after retirement because the sudden overabundance of free time can leave you with the feeling that you’ve lost purpose in life. The resulting boredom and sense of uncertainty could invite you to drink more than you usually do. Or you might have suffered from loneliness after your children moved away, or after the death of your spouse or friends. It’s natural to feel lonely under those circumstances, which push some people to turn to alcohol for comfort. You might also be suffering from stress or depression. The very real difficulties of aging — failing health, limited mobility, financial hardships, or caring for an ailing spouse — can easily pile up and impel seniors to drink. Or — and this is true in two-thirds of the cases of alcohol abuse in later life — you might have had a drinking problem that has gotten worse over the years.”Alcohol misuse means drinking excessively – more than the recommended limits of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol consumption is measured in units. A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:

  • half a pint of normal-strength lager
  • a single measure (25ml) of spirits
  • A small glass (125ml) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.

Recommended limits, the NHS recommends:

  • men shouldn’t regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day
  • women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day
  • if you’ve had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours
  • Regularly means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week

Here’s the good news: According to the National Institute on Aging, older people who seek help for a drinking problem have a good chance for recovery, because they are likely to stick to the suggested treatment programs, especially when the programs are geared specifically to older people ‘s needs.

If you are family member or friends of an elder with a drinking problem, you can also help by realistically assessing the difficulties he or she faces and being alert to changes in behaviour. You can assist a senior with a drinking problem by helping them acknowledge and mourn any losses that may have initiated the drinking problem, by helping them find treatment and a support group, and by suggesting alternative activities. If he or she is in danger from alcoholism, you may want to do an intervention — that is, confront the person (perhaps with a counsellor present) about the difficulties caused by the alcohol abuse and suggest the person immediately enter an inpatient or outpatient detoxification and rehabilitation program.

In the UK, DrugScope (2014) highlighted that two-thirds of older people with alcohol-use problems have a long history of alcohol misuse in younger age that persists into older age. Old age already brings with it conditions and diseases associated with getting on in years and older people are more likely to be prescribed medications to keep certain conditions under control. However, the effects of alcohol can be far more serious with this type of individual. Alcohol can exacerbate the effects of certain medications and alter the effects of many prescribed drugs. Drinking alcohol with some medications can cause confusion, lethargy, psychotic symptoms and inability to function safely.

The older person is also more at risk of damaging the liver, as old age brings with it metabolic changes and there is a fall in the water to fat ratio in the body. This can lead to decreased hepatic blood flow (blood to the liver) and reduced liver enzymes, causing the liver to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol.

In the older adult, the brain’s responsiveness also alters, leading to a depressive state after alcohol, rather than a happy mood. This can result in impaired co-ordination and memory. Below is a list of examples of conditions that are exacerbated by or related to increased alcohol intake;

  • Heart attacks and high blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Stomach ulcers, gastritis, liver disease
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Mental health/depression/impulsive behaviour
  • Accidents: Falls and head injuries
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer

Problem drinking in the over 65’s often goes undiagnosed for the simple reason that people tend to live less public lives as they grow older. Furthermore, doctors may not link symptoms that are also common signs of aging — falls, loss of appetite, failing memory, sleep problems, or depression — to alcohol abuse. Not everyone who drinks has an alcohol problem. The NIAAA offers some guidelines to help determine whether you or someone you care about may be abusing alcohol. You might want to get help if you notice any of the following:

  • Drinking to calm the nerves, forget worries, or reduce depression
  • Loss of interest in foodGulping drinks down too fast
  • Lying or trying to hide drinking habits
  • Hurting yourself or others while drinking
  • Frequently have more than one drink a day
  • Needing more alcohol to get “high”
  • Feeling irritable, resentful, or unreasonable when not drinking
  • Developing medical, social, or financial problems caused by drinking

Organisations that can help with alcohol issues include the following;

Drinkaware 0300 123 1110. Al-Anon 020 7403 0888. Adaction  020 7017 2747 (out of hours 07818 587 696)