Table of Contents
More and more adults are starting to up their alcohol dosage. Although the majority of American adults tend to drink alcohol in moderation – and within limits – a study done by the National Poll on Healthy Aging suggests older people are the ones upping their alcohol levels and drinking more than the recommended guidelines. Out of all older adults surveyed, 20% admitted to drinking alcohol at least four times a week.
What has caused this upward spike in alcohol abuse? And how is it affecting the health of older people across the States? In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the numbers and examining the effect of the pandemic – and Covid-19 – on the drinking increase among older adults.
Why Have Rates of Alcohol Use Increased Among Older Adults?
With alcohol use increasing among the older population, let’s take a look at some of the overarching causes:
Pandemic Restrictions and COVID-19
It’s clear that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the majority of the population, pushing people to ‘self-isolate’ and keep away from others. This loss of social interaction – and the freedom it has brought with it – has made it easier for older adults to slip into unhealthy drinking habits.
With social activities cut, some older adults may have swapped their regular hobbies like golfing, dancing, or lunching with friends for more drinking. It’s also important to remember that self-isolation and restrictions imposed by the pandemic have also had a significant impact on people’s mental health, and could have been another reason why some older people decided to up their drinking level.
As mentioned previously, social isolation is a common theme among older adults – even without the pandemic involved.
According to another survey done by The National Poll on Healthy Aging, 1 in 3 older people report having a lack of companionship and friendship with another 1 in 4 reporting feelings of isolation – solid proof that social isolation can play a big role in mental health.
In fact, increased social isolation can have an impact on your sleeping schedule and your immune system’s ability to function properly.
Underlying Mental Health Conditions
Older adults aren’t the only ones who are prone to drinking more because of underlying mental health conditions – up to 30-50% of alcohol-use disorders are actually directly related to a mental health disorder.
Many people often turn to alcohol to numb their feelings, but this can actually have the opposite effect – heightening anxiety and depression, as well as making it difficult to break out of a drinking habit.
Retirement is often seen as a positive, opening up more time for you to do what you want and to have more freedom. Fewer responsibilities and no work means you can relax – but it turns out this can actually push people to drink even more.
Older people in retirement may start to fill their day up with regular drinking without knowing it, while others might turn to alcohol out of boredom or simply to ‘fill the space’ in between the day.
How Does Alcohol Affect Older People?
Alcohol affects everybody differently, but as you age you’re more likely to experience side effects from drinking than younger people – side effects that can have a seriously detrimental impact on your overall physical and mental health.
Some of the most common side-effects of long-term alcohol drinking in older adults include:
- Memory problems
- Sleeping problems and insomnia
- Heart problems
- Liver problems
- Muscle weakness
- Weak immune system (increasing the chance of getting sick and catching infections)
- Headaches and migraines
- Longer recovery periods
While everybody will experience these effects if they drink long-term and in excess, older people are more susceptible to them. This is because, as you age, you start to lose muscle mass – leading to less fat and muscles that, in normal circumstances, would usually help absorb alcohol.
This loss in muscle also translates into less water in the body – both of which can lead an older person to experience a higher concentration of alcohol in their blood, even if they’ve drunk moderately.
It’s also important to note that the effects of immediate alcohol consumption – delayed motor responses, feelings of dizziness, and confusion – can all be felt more quickly by an older person than by a younger person.
The Dangers of Drinking Too Much
Drinking – like any substance – comes with dangers. Even if you stick to the recommended daily guidelines, long-term alcohol use – particularly among older adults – can cause complications later in life.
Alongside problems like liver disease, heart disease, and short-term memory loss, older people who take medication and drink alcohol are also at increased risk of death.
Prescription medications are common among the older adult population, but can be dangerous – and in some cases, even fatal – if mixed with alcohol. This is why it’s so important to ask your doctor questions about alcohol and your prescription, and about what’s safe and what isn’t.
Drinking Sensibly; Helpful Tips And Advice for Older Adults
There’s nothing wrong with a drink from time to time – you just need to know how to drink responsibly. Read on for our top tips on responsible drinking, and what you can do if you – or someone you know – is struggling with an alcohol-use disorder.
- Drink alcohol within the daily recommended guidelines (men shouldn’t drink more than two standard drinks a day and women shouldn’t drink more than one standard drink a day. A standard drink is any alcoholic beverage of 14 grams).
- If you suffer from an underlying mental health condition, seek treatment and medical advice as soon as possible – especially if it’s impacting how much you drink.
- Steer clear of social isolation and make an effort to form friendships and meet up with people that you love.
- If you believe that you – or someone you know – are suffering from an alcohol-use disorder, explore treatment options at different rehab facilities near you. Some offer inpatient services while others offer outpatient – there’s something to suit every lifestyle, need, and budget.