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Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors

How to Detect the Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors
Elderly man abusing alcohol

Alcohol consumption is a part of life for many Americans, even those over the age of 65. According to the National Institute or Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH),

“… about 40 percent of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol.”

This isn’t to say that all drinkers abuse alcohol. In fact, many people who drink have no history of addiction and will never go on to abuse alcohol. But for some, drinking can lead to dangerous side effects and impact both physical and mental health. For this reason, it’s important for children, those providing respite care/in-home care, and those who work in an elderly home to recognize the warning signs of alcohol abuse in seniors.

How Alcohol Affects Seniors and Risk Factors

Although some people who drink don’t pick up the habit until they become a senior, it’s likely that your loved one has drank socially or recreationally for years. But what once was an innocent pastime can quickly become a serious issue once a person reaches their golden years.

Sensitivity to Alcohol

One reason for this is that aging can cause increased sensitivity to alcohol that isn’t an issue during early adulthood. Drinking a couple of beers at 40 is different than ingesting the same amount of alcohol at 70 because the body’s tolerance level has probably changed. If your loved one drinks or you see warning signs of alcohol abuse in seniors that you are around, they could be at increased risk for falls and injuries as well as car accidents. For this reason, many children of seniors consider hiring an in-home care professional to monitor the situation when they are not around.

Medication Mixing

The risk of alcohol/medication interactions is another reason it’s crucial to recognize alcohol abuse in seniors early on. Whether they are in an elderly home, receiving respite care, or fully independent, seniors struggling with alcohol dependence can be good at hiding their alcohol use. Unfortunately, many don’t realize that mixing alcohol with medications can be extremely dangerous. This goes for over the counter medicine, prescriptions, as well as herbal remedies. Some common medicines that can interact badly with alcohol include sleeping pills, cough syrup, pain medicine, anxiety/depression medication, and even Tylenol.

Drinking to Numb The Pain

Although alcohol consumption in the 20s and 30s is common, life changes can bring about a drinking problem that never existed before. Loss of friends, the death of loved ones, empty nest syndrome, or sadness about losing independence can lead your loved one to start drinking or drink more. So, how can we tell the difference between occasional drinking and a serious problem? If you notice any of these warning signs of alcohol abuse in seniors, your loved one may need help.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors

  • Lying about drinking to family members
  • Hiding drinking from respire care or in-home caretakers
  • Stashing of alcohol in odd places
  • Slurring of speech, unsteady feet, or breath that smells like alcohol
  • Missing money or running up of debt
  • Drinking with medication even though it’s dangerous
  • Becoming irritable or angry when alcohol isn’t available
  • Driving or doing other focus-related tasks while drinking
  • Accidents, unexplained falls, bruises, or cuts
  • Becoming unable to care for one’s self because of alcohol
  • Blacking out or forgetting what has happened after drinking
  • Health issues that are related to their drinking
  • Trying to quit but being unable to

Next Steps

If any of these warning signs of alcohol abuse in seniors lead you to believe that your loved one might have a drinking problem, the first place to start is with their physician. By talking to their doctor (with your senior present or with their permission), you will be able to address any safety concerns and put together a plan for helping your loved one meet their life challenges without abusing alcohol or any other substance.

This process will not be an easy one, and we at Cranberry Home Care recognize the need for support. Cranberry Home Care professionals are here to consult with you about effective ways to keep your senior safe while addressing their drinking. We are happy to meet with you and share all we have learned caring for local seniors with similar struggles.

Trish Garbitt
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