Alcohol and seniors: a sensitive topic

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Abusive and dangerous drinking

Retirement, changes in family relationships and health issues can all lead to drinking problems in seniors. Such changes are experienced as losses and cause emotional and physical pain.

Retirement

Some seniors welcome retirement with open arms. However, for people who have never developed hobbies or interests or a network of friends outside of work, retirement entails a host of losses: there’s the loss of a routine, co-workers, something to do, a salary, the sense of being useful, etc. Work is what has given their lives meaning, goals and structure.

Social and family ties

Children leave home, friends and spouses die, social circles become smaller. And seniors often have physical problems that can limit their mobility. All this accentuates the sense of isolation and solitude, which may become intolerable. Unlike younger people, who tend to drink because they are among friends, seniors tend to drink because they are alone.

Health

Losing one’s health can result in stress caused by limited mobility and a diminished sense of self. Some people may use alcohol to dull the pain associated with the loss of their physical capacity.

Other factors

Other factors help explain why some seniors react to certain situations by drinking more, while others handle the same situations without increasing their alcohol intake. These can include the following:

  • drinking more to help handle difficult situations or events;
  • the lack of coping mechanisms other than alcohol;
  • the lack of a good social network;
  • living alone and being isolated;
  • having had drinking problems in the past.

Éduc’Alcool’s recommendations

Alcohol dependency causes suffering at any age. If we wish to ensure the dignity and well-being of seniors, we would do well to take a preventive approach and watch for potential problems rather than turn a blind eye.

Pay attention

Changes in the body’s fat-to-water ratio and a slower metabolism can produce a higher blood-alcohol level in seniors than among younger people of the same weight who drink the same amount.

Éduc’alcool recommends that people over 65 be attentive to how they respond to alcohol and adjust their drinking accordingly.

Alcohol and medication

Seniors tend to take more medications than younger people, and alcohol and drugs are often a very bad mix. Éduc’alcool recommends that anyone over 65 who receives a prescription check immediately with their physician or pharmacist to see whether alcohol is contra-indicated.

A vigilant community

Seniors are at risk for unintentional dangerous drinking, and drinking problems can masquerade as symptoms often associated with aging. Éduc’alcool recommends that the caring community of people over 65 – family, friends, physicians and health-care professionals – be informed, watchful and quick to take action.

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