Can You Spot Elder Alcohol Abuse?

The beginning of April is a turning point when winter appears to finally give way to spring and more people come out of hibernation to connect with others in their community.  April is also Alcohol Awareness Month and older adults who are empty nesters, have lost a spouse or close friends or have chronic health problems may find they are increasingly becoming dependent on alcohol.  It’s a hard question to ask yourself and doctors don’t frequently probe seniors about their alcohol consumption, but the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence has developed a quiz that might help older adults determine if their drinking has become a problem. 

Alcohol abuse can be hidden or overlooked in older adults but there are warning signs that may indicate there is a concern.  Stress, loneliness, pain or loss of independence can all lead older adults to abuse alcohol at a time in life when drinking too much can lead to worsening health problems, memory loss, confusion and an increased risk for falls or auto accidents. 

Warning Signs

  • A loss of interest in hobbies or pleasurable activities.
  • Drinking in spite of warning labels on prescription drugs.
  • A ritual of drinking before, with or after dinner.
  • Slurred speech, empty liquor and beer bottles, smell of alcohol on breath, change in personal appearance.
  • Immediate and frequent use of tranquilizers.
  • Chronic and unsupported health complaints.
  • Solitary or secretive drinking.
  • Memory loss and confusion.
  • Hostility or depression.

Source:  National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Although it’s not often discussed, widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the United States.  Nearly half of nursing home residents have alcohol related problems and it is estimated that 2.5 million older adults have a drug or alcohol problem.  Alcoholism among older adults, which can sometimes mimic dementia, can frequently go undiagnosed.  But with treatment, seniors can enjoy a better quality of life while lowering their risk for serious drug interactions and other health problems associated with alcohol abuse.  It’s never too late to make a change. 

To learn more or to take the test to see if you are addicted, following this link to the NACDD website.