The Relationship between Aging and Alcohol

Alcohol abuse. What comes to mind when you hear that term? You probably think of someone who is depressed, failing to cope with life, or simply doesn’t know any better. Certainly research shows that those who live alone, are divorced or separated their spouse, have lost a job or a loved one are more likely to be heavy drinkers. College kids can have a reputation in general as binge drinkers. However alcoholism, and substance abuse in general, knows no age boundaries.

Those at high risk of drinking too much are men around age 60 and women at around age 50. The risk tapers off throughout the ensuing decades. What does “too much” alcohol mean though? How is one supposed to know the limit? The equivalent of 17 to 25 glasses of beer or wine per week for men and 12 to 17 for women can be harmful to health. While those numbers may seem sky high to some, for others it is well within the average of their weekly alcohol consumption. If a person drinks two beers each day, seven days a week, they are easily drinking 14 glasses a week. Most experts say that the safest level of alcohol intake is one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.

It may be interesting to know that alcohol abuse is not relegated to those who are depressed, failing to cope, or out of control. Statistically, heavy drinking is found in people with better health, a higher income, more education, and active social lives. Researchers question whether that demographic sees the safety warnings about drinking heavily but simply doesn’t believe the warnings apply to them. They may believe that it is ok to drink heavily because they are healthy in all other respects.

For seniors, one of the more dangerous aspects of alcohol abuse is the fact that there can be catastrophic consequences to mixing it with medications. The majority of seniors take more than one medication. If each has a potentially adverse reaction when mixed with alcohol, the dangers increase quickly. If a senior is regularly drinking, signs to be aware may include falling more frequently, trouble with balance, cognitive problems, sleeping problems, depression, and delirium.

Having a drink isn’t the end of the world. A casual drink on a regular basis can actually benefit health, but one has to be careful. Be forthright with the doctor about what medications are being used, and what health issues exist. Whether a person is 25 or 85, alcohol and drugs may be used as coping mechanisms. They are dangerous at any age. It pays to be aware of the dangers of alcohol, be smart about its use, and protect one’s health.

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