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Signs of Alcoholism in Seniors

Elderly alcohol and drug abuse is a growing concern in the United States. More than 2.8 million seniors over 50 had a substance use disorder between 2002 and 2006 alone.

What Are the Signs of Senior Alcoholism?

Besides increasing the amount of alcohol they’re consuming, which may not always be very noticeable, other signs of senior alcoholism or long-term alcohol abuse include:2

  • Drinking to cope with emotional trauma or grief
  • Binge drinking
  • Heavy drinking and lying about the amount consumed
  • Agitation or irritability when sober
  • Regularly being tipsy or drunk
  • Drinking alcohol with their medication, including aspirin, sleeping pills, pain pills, or antidepressants
  • Dehydration
  • More frequent or severe health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, memory impairment
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Exhibiting alcohol withdrawal symptoms whenever they can’t get a drink for a few hours
  • A lack of self-care resulting in poor personal hygiene and a messy living environment

These symptoms may appear at varying degrees, depending on whether or not the senior is a high-functioning alcoholic or not, with the former often not showing many of the warning signs of alcoholism whatsoever.

How Common Is Alcoholism in Older Adults?

Heavy alcohol consumption in older people is relatively common:2

  • At least one in ten seniors binge drink each month.
  • One in 40 seniors binge drink five or more times each month.

Although fewer seniors have diagnosable drinking problems, statistics are on the rise at an alarming pace:3

  • 6% of older people are diagnosed with an alcohol abuse disorder each year.
  • 11% of all elderly hospitalization cases are due to drug or alcohol consumption.
  • At least 50% of seniors living in nursing homes or other care facilities admit to having alcohol-related problems.

What Causes Senior Alcoholism?

Although there’s no foolproof way of predicting alcohol abuse or addiction in seniors, some factors or events may increase the risk of an elderly person falling victim to the disorder, including:1

  • Substance abuse screenings aren’t part of standard senior check-ups, making it difficult to detect a problem early on before it develops into a full-blown addiction.
  • Empty nest syndrome occurs once all their children have left the house or moved out of their hometown. Feelings of abandonment or loneliness can drive seniors to alcohol to deal with these negative emotions.
  • They may self-medicate due to increased health problems or aches and pains associated with aging.
  • They may suffer depression over the aging process.
  • They may feel boredom, as they are retired and lack an everyday purpose or enough socialization.

How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect the Lives of Seniors?

The effects of alcohol abuse may not be apparent at first, but they could quickly lead to damaging effects on your physical or mental health. As people age, their bodies become less capable of metabolizing alcohol, contributing to several adverse effects.

Some of the most significant dangers associated with the elderly abusing alcohol include:

  • Mixing medication and alcohol: Mixing alcohol with blood thinners, antidepressants, or blood pressure medication could cause dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, and sleepiness, all of which could lead to accidents like falling or if the senior still drives, a serious car crash.
  • Higher risk of getting an STD: This is especially true for seniors living in elderly communities or nursing homes. Drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, often leading to unprotected sex and the possible spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Health problems: These include seizures, liver failure, heart attacks, kidney issues, comas, or even death if the situation isn’t addressed promptly.
  • Increased risk of developing mental health problems or mood disorders: Consuming alcohol in large amounts results in developing mental health issues like bipolar disorder or depression, which may spur a senior to drink even more or resort to other illicit substances.

How to Talk to an Older Adult About Seeking Help

Family members of seniors who may have alcoholism play an essential role in getting them to seek help or attend their choice of treatment programs. When starting a discussion on possible alcohol addiction with your elderly loved one, it is important to:4

  • Avoid labeling them an addict or alcoholic.
  • Choose the right time, preferably when your loved one is sober.
  • Be respectful, loving, and non-judgmental.
  • Be honest about your concerns.
  • Encourage introspection and self-awareness and use open-ended questions to get them talking about the factors they think may be contributing to their drinking.
  • Assist them in finding the right treatment plan and facility should they need professional assistance.

Adelante Recovery Center offers specialized rehab programs for seniors and older adults, focusing on dual diagnosis, pain management, and personalized therapy.

If you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism, alcohol abuse disorder, or any other addiction, contact our dedicated team today at (949) 427-9099 to get the help you need.


  1. https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/resources/alcoholism-seniors/
  2. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcohol/risks-effects-dangers/elderly-aging
  3. https://aging.com/alcohol-abuse-amongst-the-elderly-a-complete-guide/
  4. https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2018-07-16/the-dos-and-donts-of-alcohol-intervention-for-seniors

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