older adult with alcohol addiction, alcoholism in older adult

When addressing alcohol abuse in older adults and elderly individuals, several factors should be considered, including the increased risk of health complications, heightened sensitivity to alcohol, and the impact on their mental health and social life.

The Risks of Alcohol Abuse in Older Individuals

The senior population faces many unique challenges due to physiological, psychological, and social conditions. While alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism might not seem as prevalent in older adults, as individuals age, they become more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. The increased sensitivity to alcohol can lead to higher BAC levels and intoxication, heightening their risk of accidents, injuries, mental health issues, and other health complications.

Geriatric alcohol use disorder is a growing public health concern, with a study showing 10 to 15% of elderly primary care patients meeting the criteria for alcohol abuse. With their existing mental and physical health concerns, cognitive decline, and social stressors, older adults are at an increased risk for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

older adults drinking alcohol, alcohol abuse in geriatric population

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol

As individuals age, the body’s water content begins to reduce, affecting its ability to metabolize alcohol effectively. When alcohol does not metabolize correctly, this causes it to remain in someone’s system longer, therefore heightening its effects in older adults. Increased alcohol sensitivity leads the senior population to become intoxicated quickly and with fewer drinks.

Older adults might abuse this factor or hold the belief that they can handle the same amount of alcohol that they used to. Alcoholism in older adults can be more dangerous, considering their unique physiological and psychological needs.

Higher Risk of Health Complications in Older Adults

Regular alcohol consumption can lead to or exacerbate existing health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive decline, all of which are prevalent in older individuals. The risk of memory loss and dementia becomes higher as people get older, including alcohol-related dementia (ARD).

The link between alcohol use and cognitive impairment is due to alcohol’s damaging effects on the structure and function of the brain, facilitating the onset of cognitive decline in geriatric populations. Diseases like cirrhosis and liver damage are more prevalent in individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Older adults may be more susceptible to these health conditions and take longer to recover from them than younger individuals.

Alcohol and Medication Interactions

The interaction between alcohol and prescription medications has continued to be overlooked by patients taking these medications. Medications for chronic conditions, such as over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers or blood thinners, can dangerously interact with alcohol. Consuming alcohol while on certain medications can either heighten the side effects or decrease the efficacy of the drug. Other dangerous effects may also include gastrointestinal bleeding, liver damage, and an increased risk of overdose, suicide, and blood clotting.

senior woman struggling with mental health and alcoholism

Mental Health and Alcoholism

Alcohol use can facilitate or exacerbate mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Older individuals are at a greater risk for these mental health conditions as a result of physiological, social, and environmental factors. Unfortunately, loneliness and social isolation are common risk factors for mental health disorders and are generally experienced by older individuals.

Approximately 14% of adults over the age of 60 struggle with a mental health disorder, primarily depression and anxiety disorders. Living with a mental health disorder can be challenging, especially when left untreated. Mental health struggles can lead individuals to consume more alcohol or pain medications for relief. This toxic coping mechanism exacerbates mental health issues and alcohol use disorder (AUD), increasing the risk of suicide and overdose in older adults.

Social and Emotional Triggers for Older Adults with Alcoholism

The senior population’s mental health not only correlates with cognitive decline and worsening health but also encompasses their social and environmental stressors. Whether it’s retiring and adjusting to a new routine and life, losing spouses or other peers, or an increased sense of loneliness, these triggers can lead them to drink more alcohol. Social drinking might start as an occasional thing, but drinking alcohol for relief from loneliness, depression, or grief can develop into a dependence.

Alcohol dependence, if not adequately addressed, can escalate into an addiction, leading to alcoholism. Older individuals are at an increased risk for alcoholism as a result of their increased sensitivity to alcohol and unique social and emotional stressors.

Tailored Addiction Treatment for the Older and Geriatric Population

Intervention and comprehensive treatment for older individuals struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction in the geriatric population is essential. A tailored addiction treatment program can adequately address the psychological, physiological, and social challenges and needs of this community.

Following admission to a treatment center for older individuals, a thorough assessment is conducted to evaluate the severity of their addiction and the state of their physical and mental health. The assessment will help develop a personalized treatment plan based on their evaluation, whether considering cognitive impairment, co-occurring disorders, or their current medication. A tailored treatment plan ensures that each patient receives treatment that will not interfere with any pre-existing mental or physical health conditions but rather contribute to addressing them.

senior population in alcohol addiction support group

A drug and alcohol rehab center that offers age-appropriate treatment and care might offer cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or motivational interviewing (MI). CBT is a type of behavioral therapy that can help older people adopt healthy coping strategies for dealing with loneliness, loss, and other addiction triggers. Motivational interviewing (MI) motivates older individuals to alter maladaptive behaviors contributing to their addiction while considering their personal goals and current stage of life.

Tailored treatment for seniors can also incorporate physical therapy for those with disabilities or limitations, helping them improve their mobility and physical health. Group therapies and support meetings can also provide a sense of community for seniors struggling with loneliness and isolation. Addressing alcoholism in older adults requires a multi-faceted approach to addiction treatment to help them improve their quality of life and achieve sobriety and holistic health.

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use or think you might have an addiction, reach out to Coastal Detox today. We offer 24/7 help for those looking for alcohol detox and treatment in Stuart, FL.


  • Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2015. Geriatric Alcohol Use Disorder.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians, 2000. Alcoholism in the Elderly.
  • PubMed Central, 2016. Alcohol-Related Dementia and Neurocognitive Impairment: A Review Study.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. The Healthcare Professional’s Core Resource on Alcohol: Alcohol-Medication Interactions: Potentially Dangerous Mixes.
  • World Health Organization, 2023. Mental health of older adults.
  • National Institute on Aging, 2021. Depression and Older Adults.