Senior Adult Depression, Health Issues and Problem Drinking
Posted On June 28, 2017
Chronic Health Conditions and Depression Contribute to Problem Drinking in Older Adults
| Older adults (including baby boomers) experiencing multiple chronic health conditions and depression are nearly ﬁve times as likely to be problem drinkers as older adults with the same conditions and no depression.
Older Adult Problems from Alcohol Use
| Senior adults most negatively effected by alcohol use include those who:
• Take certain medications • Have chronic health problems • Drink heavily
Older adults’ alcohol use should be considered as spanning a spectrum from abstinence to dependence rather than falling into rigid categories.
Studies suggest three ways of categorizing older adults’ problem-drinking:
Early onset (age 20+) versus late onset drinking (age 50+)
Continuous versus intermittent drinking
Early onset drinkers tend to have longstanding alcohol-related problems that generally begin before age 40, most often in the 20s and 30s. In contrast, late onset drinkers generally experience their first alcohol-related problems after age 40 or 50 (Atkinson, 1984,1994; Liberto and Oslin, 1995; Atkinson et al., 1990).
How Much Alcohol is Too Much for Older Adults?
The same amount of alcohol that previously had little effect can cause intoxication in senior adults (Smith, 1995; Vestal et al., 1977). This often results in increased sensitivity and decreased tolerance to alcohol as people age (Rosin and Glatt, 1971).
Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. Researchers speculate that the change in relative alcohol content – combined with the slower reaction times frequently observed in older adults – may be responsible for some of the accidents and injuries that plague this age group (Bucholz et al., 1995; Salthouse, 1985; Ray, 1992). From Substance Abuse Among Older Adults.
In the Physician’s Guide to Helping Patients With Alcohol Problems, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) offers recommendations for low-risk drinking. For individuals over the age of 65, NIAAA recommends “no more than one drink per day” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1995).
For Healthy Adults Age 65 and Older, Recommended Alcohol Consumption
No more than one drink per day.
Maximum of two drinks on any drinking occasion (New Year’s Eve, weddings).
Somewhat lower limits for women.
The goal is to foster sensible drinking that avoids health risks. The purpose in promoting these limits is to establish a “safety zone” for healthy older adults who drink. A standard drink is one can (12 oz.) of beer or ale; a single shot (1.5 oz.) of hard liquor; a glass (5 oz.) of wine; or a small glass (4 oz.) of sherry, liqueur, or aperitif.
Older men and women who do not have serious or unstable medical problems and are not taking psychoactive medications are unlikely to incur problems with alcohol if they adhere to these guidelines.
Research: Older Adults Depression, Health Issues and Problem Drinking
Among problem drinkers, or individuals who reported a high amount of negative consequences associated with alcohol use, the researchers found that more than half—66 percent—reported having multiple chronic health conditions, or MCC. Symptoms of depression were found in 28 percent of those participating. The researchers found that older adults who experienced MCC combined with depression were those who experienced the highest likelihood of problem drinking.
Older Adults Alcohol Consumption Hazards
Three age-related changes significantly affect the way an older person responds to alcohol:
Decrease in body water
Increased sensitivity and decreased tolerance to alcohol
Decrease in the metabolism of alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract.
As lean body mass decreases with age, total body water also decreases while fat increases. Because alcohol is water-soluble and not fat-soluble, this change in body water means that, for a given dose of alcohol, the concentration of alcohol in the blood system is greater in an older person than in a younger person.
How to Get Help for Problem Drinking and Alcoholism
Our average client age is 45-65; baby boomers welcome!
We use a multi-disciplinary addiction treatment approach implemented by licensed professionals. The Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Staff includes a Physician-Addictionologist, Addiction Psychiatrist, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, Registered Nurse, several Licensed Therapists, and an addiction Nutritionist.
We assist our clients in finding their personal connection to the spiritual. Through years of experience, we believe in the power of spirituality in the addiction healing process. We assist our clients in discovering their unique path to living a more authentic and joyful life. See our article on Mindfulness Meditation – The 10th Step.