It is a misconception to believe that older adults do not frequently use alcohol and drugs, according to Dr. Alexis Kuerbisin, writing in the journal Clinical Geriatric Medicine. Research indicates that the use of substances among people 60 and older has been underestimated for decades. The reality is that the need for substance abuse treatment will continue to grow substantially among older generations.
One of the areas where seniors have a problem is with at-risk drinking. At-risk drinking is defined as more than three drinks on one occasion or more than seven drinks per week. For men 60 and older an estimated 60 percent are at-risk drinkers and for women approximately 11 percent are at-risk drinkers.
A significant number of older adults are binge drinkers, which is usually defined as five or more drinks in one drinking session. Approximately 20 percent of men are felt to binge drink at the present time along with a little over 6 percent of women.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence provides data confirming that alcohol abuse is a significant problem for older adults.
- 2.5 million have an alcohol or other drug problem.
- At least 6 percent of older adult hospital stays are due to alcohol or other drug problems.
- Men over the age of 75 who have lost their wives have the highest rate of alcoholism.
- Almost 50 percent of seniors who live in nursing homes have alcohol-related problems.
- The hospitalization rate for alcohol-related problems is the same as for heart attacks.
- Older adults are less able to process alcohol efficiently.
According to the Centers of Disease Control problems that are caused or made worse by overuse of alcohol among seniors include the following:
- Injuries, falls, drowning and auto crashes
- Risky sexual behaviors
- High blood pressure and heart disease including atrial fibrillation
- Cancer of breast, throat, colon and others
- Mental health problems including cognitive decline
The Hazelden Addiction Treatment center indicates that early signs of alcoholism and other drugs of abuse include:
- Going to many events where drinking is accepted/expected
- Keeping drinking hidden
- Having a routine of drinking around dinner which is an
important part of the day
- Having a lot of beer and alcohol bottles
- Having burns and bruises
- Being irrationally fearful and stressed
- Being depressed and hostile
- Losing memory
Linda Yarick, PhD, an addiction practitioner in the Toledo area and Michigan for the past 24 years, suggests helping the problematic drinker by carrying out a non-threatening intervention with friends and family who care about the individual. This is probably best done with a professional, with the goal that the individual with alcohol issues starts thinking of changing behaviors.
During this process do not become demanding, punitive or aggressive. Yarick indicates that we should try to understand why they are where they are with their drinking.
According to Yarick, if the intervention is successful, the individual’s next step is get a referral for an assessment to determine risk level, consumption patterns and the level of treatment needed. Treatment possibilities range from detox, inpatient to outpatient treatment and attending AA meetings.