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Senior Alcohol Withdrawal Dangers

April, 2009 marks the 22nd year of Alcohol Awareness Month.
Tarzana Treatment Centers is participating with a series of articles meant to inform and educate the general public about alcohol abuse, dependence and treatment.  Considering that over 21 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol abuse and over 53 million admit to past-month binge drinking, not to mention the many loved ones affected by each, our efforts are worthwhile.

As we age we become more susceptible to problems related to alcohol and prescription drugs.  Senior alcohol abuse and prescription drug abuse often is the result of self-medicating for physical and emotional issues that afflict older men and women.

One particular danger in cases of senior alcohol abuse or dependence is severe withdrawal symptoms.  There are several reasons that older men and women suddenly quit drinking, unaware of the health risks involved.  One example is quitting for a few days when family or friends visit.  

With emergency hospitalizations, lacking knowledge about alcohol withdrawal symptoms coupled with shame can lead to serious issues.  For example, if an elderly man is admitted to a hospital and a family member needs to give admitting information, they may not mention that he drinks throughout every day due to shame.  This could complicate primary treatment when withdrawals occur because of the hurdle the symptoms create for medical staff.

For those with older family members, a little knowledge about alcohol withdrawal symptoms and their impact on seniors, and alcohol detox, can save a life.  Seniors should consult with their doctors if they abuse alcohol or have become dependent.  It should be noted that older women are at greater risk of developing alcohol problems than older men.

The above examples are meant to encourage readers to seek more information.  A sample of a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism follows.  

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Older women tend to have longer life expectancies and to live alone longer than men, and they are less likely than men in the same age group to be financially independent. These physical, social, and psychological factors are sometimes associated with at–risk drinking in older adulthood, so they are especially relevant for older women.

Older women have major physical risk factors that make them particularly susceptible to the negative effects of increased alcohol consumption (Blow 1998). Women of all ages have less lean muscle mass than men, making them more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. In addition, there is an age–related decrease in lean body mass versus total volume of fat, and the resultant decrease in total body mass increases the total distribution of alcohol and other mood–altering chemicals in the body. Both men and women experience losses in lean muscle mass as they age, but women have less lean muscle mass than men throughout adulthood and, therefore, are less able to metabolize alcohol throughout their lives, including into older adulthood (see Blow 1998 for further information). Liver enzymes that metabolize alcohol and certain other drugs become less efficient with age, and central nervous system sensitivity increases with age for both genders. In sum, compared with younger adults, and with older men, older women have an increased sensitivity to alcohol.

Older women also have a heightened response to over–the–counter and prescription medications (Smith 1995; Vestal et al. 1977; Blow 1998). The use and misuse of alcohol and prescription medications are therefore especially risky for women as they age because of their specific vulnerabilities regarding sensitivity to alcohol and medications. For most patients, any alcohol consumption coupled with the use of specific over–the–counter or prescription medications can be a problem. For example, combining alcohol with psychoactive medications such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and antidepressants can be especially problematic for this population. Older women are more likely than older men to receive prescriptions for benzodiazepines in particular, and are therefore more likely to be faced with problems related to the interaction of these medications with alcohol (see Blow 1998 for further discussion). There is a paucity of data available on rates of the co–occurrence of alcohol and medication use in older people. This area needs more study.

Because older women generally drink less than older men or abstain from alcohol, health care providers may be less likely to recognize at–risk drinking and alcohol problems in this population. Moreover, few elderly women who abuse alcohol seek help in specialized addiction treatment settings. These problems stand in the way of effective interventions that can improve the quality of life of older women drinking at risky levels.

-- Source: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-4/308-315.htm --

Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles makes a daily effort to find treatment news articles that we can share with our readers in the alcohol and drug treatment community.  The external content was found among other articles of equal informational and educational quality.

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