AMARILLO – Underage drinking is a large problem in America and much effort is focused on its prevention, said a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist. However, older adults may be at a higher risk for alcohol abuse.
Andrew B. Crocker, Extension gerontology health specialist, said alcohol abuse among older adults may be attributed to many things, including depression, isolation, grief and fear.
Studies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate 17 percent of those over age 60 misuse alcohol. They also show alcohol-related hospitalization rates are similar to those for heart attacks.
Because aging may change the body’s composition and the way it processes alcohol, older adults need to be especially concerned when consuming alcoholic beverages, Crocker said.
Often the signs of alcoholism in older adults may be mistaken for other common problems associated with aging, he said. Alcohol consumption dulls the senses and balance, which may lead to falling. Confusion, memory loss and lack of concentration may also be mistaken for dementia.
Another concern is medications can interact with alcohol, leading to increased risk of illness, injury or death, Crocker said. Alcohol-medication interactions are estimated to be a factor in at least 25 percent of all emergency room admissions. An unknown number of less serious interactions may go unrecognized or unrecorded.
Older adults may be especially likely to mix drugs and alcohol and are at particular risk for the adverse consequences of such combinations, he said. Although persons age 65 and older constitute only 12 percent of the population, they consume 25 percent to 30 percent of all prescription medications.
Alcohol may stop a drug’s breakdown in the body, increasing the risk of experiencing harmful side effects from the drug, he said. Long-term alcohol consumption may decrease the drug’s potency and lessen its effects, or alcohol may transform some drugs into toxic chemicals that can damage the liver or other organs.
Interactions may also occur with anesthetics given during surgery, antibiotics, blood thinners, antidepressants, diabetic medications, pain relievers and almost any other type of medication, he said.
While current nutrition guidelines allow two alcoholic beverages per day for men and one per day for women, older adults should still take caution when consuming alcohol, especially in excess, Crocker said.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that those over age 65 should have no more than one drink per day. Signs of alcoholism may vary from person to person, depending on their individual tolerance for alcohol, Crocker said.
“Whether you have been a lifelong heavy-drinker or only recently developed a drinking problem, alcohol abuse is a very serious problem,” he said.
The National Institute on Aging recommends seeking help if someone exhibits some of the following symptoms:
Drinks to calm nerves, forget worries or reduce depression.
Gulps down drinks.
Frequently has more than one drink per day.
Lies about or tries to hide drinking.
Hurts self or others while drinking.
Feels irritable, resentful or unreasonable when not drinking.
Has medical, social or financial worries caused by drinking.
“If you think that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol abuse, speak to your health provider and share your concern with him or her,” Crocker advised. “Hopefully, he or she will be aware of treatment programs or other options in your area that may help you with your alcohol abuse problem.”
More information from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism can be found at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov .