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How Alcoholism Affects Seniors
As people age, their tolerance for alcohol declines. This isn’t due to any change in the rate of absorption of alcohol, but as their body mass decreases there is less volume for the distribution of alcohol, so they feel more of the effects. With the greater effects that alcohol can carry as a person ages, they may not necessarily need to drink more to experience greater, potentially dangerous effects. This can lead to the development of senior alcoholism or some other alcohol-related disease.
While the effects of alcohol are strengthened with age, that is not the most pressing danger that comes with alcohol misuse among seniors. The greatest threat is the frequent misdiagnosing of seniors with alcohol use disorders. This is often because symptoms of alcohol misuse are dismissed due to the person’s age. These symptoms can include:
- Solitary drinking, or drinking in secret
- Regular drinking before, with, or after dinner
- Loss of interest in old hobbies and activities
- Alcohol use despite warnings on medications
- Slurred speech
- Abundant empty liquor, wine, and beer bottles
- Changes in personal appearance
- Chronic health complaints
- Depression or hostility
- Confusion and memory loss
Looking at the above list, this could sound like any number of elder family members that someone could know. Some of these are even just symptoms of getting older. That is why keeping a vigilant eye for these symptoms is important for the loved ones of someone who is in their later years.
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Senior Alcoholism as a Coping Mechanism
The longer people live, the better chance there is that they will experience some form of loss. The loss of jobs, homes, and loved ones will weigh on a person in ways that aren’t always easily identifiable from the outside. Especially as a person ages, they may feel the need to hide the stress in their life to appear more virile or stable. Because senior citizens may feel that they can’t reveal these issues to a child or loved one, they seek comfort through the numbing effects of alcohol. However, the concept of growing older carries a sense of security for many, so why would someone turn to alcohol abuse?
For most of the population, retirement is so far out on the horizon that they don’t think of it. More and more, people aren’t putting money away or preparing for their eventual retirement. These attitudes carry on with most people for years until it is too late. By the time retirement is at the forefront of our minds, we are far along in our lives and don’t have nearly enough time to plan accordingly for retirement. This stress of trying to find money to take care of themselves after they finish with their career can drive many to find comfort in the numbing effects of alcohol.
The idea of retirement is one of security. People work their entire lives, paying a little out of each paycheck to social security and their own 401Ks and retirement accounts. By the time they are ready to retire, they should be taken care of, right? Sadly, this is not the case. More and more elderly people are being left without a nest egg, savings, and social security check every year. This financial instability can leave someone with some severe anxiety and no good options to cover their expenses. Stress and anxiety are frequently a reason that people use alcohol to cope. It’s easier for people to ignore their issues after the depressing effects of alcohol.
It is an unfortunate fact but growing old often means outliving others. Friends, family, loved ones, and even their own children; people growing into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s means that they will be saying goodbye to more and more every year. In fact, in the US, widowers over the age of 75 suffer from the highest rate of alcoholism. People, no matter the age, frequently turn to the effects of alcohol as a way of coping with grief. Partnered with the greater amount of death that someone is more likely to experience as they age, and the growing effects of alcohol on an aging body, elderly turning to alcohol to help cope makes them more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder.
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Senior Alcoholism Statistics
2.5 million adults in the US suffer from a drug or alcohol problem.
14% of the elderly admitted into the ER are due to drug and alcohol related issues.
Almost 50% of nursing home residents have some form of alcohol use disorder.
Seeking Help for Senior Alcoholism
Senior Alcoholism is often an issue that is swept under the rug. Many don’t understand how wide-spread the issue is, and it is this ignorance that allows the epidemic to swell. If there is a senior in your life that you believe may be suffering from alcoholism, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. Open discussion is often the first step to recovery. If you don’t know where to start, or how to help them, then try reaching out to a dedicated treatment provider today. They are available 24/7 to answer any questions that you may have about the process of recovery.
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