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Senior Alcohol Abuse - Damaging Effects

Senior alcohol abuse is often more difficult to correct than with any other group in America.  By age 60, most individuals are set in their ways and don’t feel the need to change anything.  In fact, many seniors are aware of the risks they face with heavy drinking and continue seemingly without care.  Loved ones may feel helpless, but solutions exist.

About 40% of those over 60 say they drink alcohol, with almost one-third of them admitting to binge drinking and heavy drinking, or alcohol dependence.  These statistics come from a 2007 report at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies website.  This means that about 1 in 10 seniors at least binge drink on occasion, which can be very dangerous to their health and that of others.  

Many external changes happen with individuals when they reach age 60.  Retirement is imminent if it has not already occurred, friends begin to move away or pass away, and family members may even suggest a change of residence.  Worst of all, the mind and body begin to show signs of aging, meaning that doctor visits become common and more medications need to be taken.  All of these can be terribly stressful on anyone when they are grouped into a few short years.

Boredom, loneliness, and a sense of powerlessness can each lead anyone to drink alcohol.  Whether it is a time-filler or an escape from negative feelings doesn’t matter.  The end result is that it works and leads to earlier drinking times and less time outside the home.  Senior alcohol abuse may even be a purposeful celebration of the golden years.  The daily party begins with joy, but can quickly turn to injury or a fatality.

This can all be very harmful for seniors due to interactions with medications, a higher risk of falling, and aging major organs.  If alcohol dependence sets in, the effects on the body and brain are more detrimental to seniors than anyone else.  The celebrators, in freedom, usually drive under the influence.  Yet most seniors who abuse alcohol either hide it or justify it, and accept the risks.

Family members who see the alcohol abuse will often accept the behavior as a rite of passage.  Considering the years they have lived, why would a loved one deny what seems well deserved? And if nobody gets hurt, all is okay.  That is, until somebody gets hurt or health problems develop.  Some seniors will stop the behavior at this point, but most will continue to drink heavily and probably more.

There are 2 things that loved ones can do at this point.  The first is to strongly suggest alcohol detox and alcohol treatment.  But most people in their 60’s today will see that as a sign of weakness and refuse, and family members generally won’t force the issue.  Doing so may get the elderly alcoholic into treatment, but he or she will only benefit if self-motivated.  So keep suggesting, with love, and let them make the decision.

Second, you can set boundaries and stick to them.  If they refuse to quit drinking or cut down, suggest accompanying them to the doctor so you can discuss medication interactions.  Let them know you understand that they are not concerned with their own health, but you are concerned with the health of others including yourself and younger members of the family.  It may be hard, but you must be firm, with love, and continue to suggest alcohol treatment.

To the younger generations, seniors who refuse to change these behaviors seem stubborn.  However, like any other individual who engages in alcohol abuse, the bottom line is that they are escaping from emotions.  Instead of arguing and treating them like children, it is best to discuss feelings as much as possible.  Avoid forcing the issue of senior alcohol treatment, and use gentle, loving nudges.

Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles provides alcohol and drug treatment for seniors in a culturally sensitive manner.  We specialize in treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, and have two primary medical care clinics in the San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valley.  If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol dependence, drug addiction, or co-occurring mental health disorders, please call us now at 888-777-8565 or contact us here.

Southern California Locations for Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Tarzana Treatment Centers has locations all over Southern California in Los Angeles County. Other than our central location in Tarzana, we have facilities in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, Long Beach, and in Northridge and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley.

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