Middlesex-London Health Unit

🔍Search
🔍 or Ask a Question
Home
Inner Nav

Alcohol and Older Adults

As we age, it is important to remember that alcohol affects us differently. 

  • You become more sensitive to alcohol as you get older
  • Drinking alcohol can make some health problems worse
  • Mixing alcohol and medication can be very dangerous

Effects of Alcohol on Older Adults

In general, older adults do not drink as much as younger people but they can be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.  This is because older adults' blood circulation, kidneys, and liver work more slowly to eliminate alcohol and their bodies contain less water to dilute alcohol.  These factors make older adults more at risk for:

  • Decreases in muscle control
  • Decreases in muscle strength
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of co-ordination

All of these issues put older adults at risk for injuries due to falls.

Alcohol Can Make Some Health Problems Worse

Alcohol travels through the bloodstream to every organ in the body which means alcohol can have an effect on every organ in the body.  Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing a number of health problems including certain cancers, heart issues, liver disease, alcohol dependence, mental health problems, and injuries.  If an older adult is already living with a physical or mental health problem, alcohol can actually make that health problem worse. 

Physically, alcohol can cause more damage if someone is living with:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart issues
  • Blood Pressure problems
  • Liver damage
  • Stomach problems

Mentally, alcohol can cause further problems with:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Mood disorders

To decrease your risks related to alcohol as you age, older adults are encouraged to drink less than the Canadian Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines and to check with your healthcare provider regarding your current alcohol drinking habits.

Alcohol and Medications

Many older adults take medications including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal remedies.  Drinking alcohol while on medication can put you at dangerous risk and can cause the medication to not work properly.  Problems mixing alcohol and medicine can include:

  • Serious medical problems like bleeding, breathing difficulties and heart problems
  • Increasing side effects of medication like nausea/vomiting, drowsiness, dizziness, loss of balance and confusion
  • Making the medication less effective or completely useless

It is important to remember that medication can stay active in your body for a long time – so even if you drink alcohol several hours after you take your medication, it can still have a negative effect.

Speak with your healthcare provider and pharmacist about drinking alcohol while on any medication including prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal remedies.

For More Information:

 
Date of creation: March 1, 2013
Last modified on: February 11, 2015

References

1Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2006). Responding to Older Adults with Substance Use, Mental Health and Gambling Challenges. Toronto: Author.
2National Institute on Aging. (2011). Older Adults and Alcohol. Retrieved from
http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/older-adults-and-alcohol