Many people drink alcohol. It's part of many customs and traditions.
Even so, people may not have some basic information about alcohol, including
how it affects people differently and what problems it can cause in the
Alcohol and older adults
Alcohol can affect older adults more strongly than younger adults.
Usually need less alcohol to become drunk
(intoxicated) than someone younger.
May have vision and hearing problems and slower
reaction times. Alcohol can make these problems worse, which means
alcohol-related falls, car crashes, and other kinds of accidents are more
May be more likely to mix alcohol and medicine because
they are more likely to be taking many medicines. Mixing alcohol with many
over-the-counter and prescription medicines can be dangerous or fatal.
In older adults, alcohol can trigger health problems or make them
worse. These health problems include
high blood pressure,
ulcers, liver disease,
anxiety, sleep problems, and
Alcohol and women
Drinking has a greater effect on women because they generally weigh
less. But this isn't the only reason. Women's bodies have less water than men's
bodies. Alcohol mixes with body water, so alcohol is more concentrated and more
"powerful" in women than in men. Think of putting a drop of red food coloring
in a smaller and larger cup. The water in the smaller cup will be much
alcohol abuse creates more problems in women than in
men. Alcohol dependence and related medical problems, such as brain and liver
damage, get worse faster in women than in men.
Drinking during pregnancy makes a
fetal alcohol syndrome more likely. A child exposed to
alcohol in the womb may have facial changes, such as a small face or narrow
eyes; slowed growth; and learning and behavior problems, such as being
overactive or having a poor attention span.
Research shows that people who have 1 or 2 drinks a day are less
likely to develop heart disease than people who don't drink any alcohol or who
drink larger amounts.
But alcohol also can make
high blood pressure more likely. If you don't drink
now, don't start drinking for your heart. Regular physical activity and a
healthy diet will help your heart without the risks of alcohol.
You don't have to drink a lot or be an alcoholic to have trouble
with alcohol. While one person may be able to handle a drink or two a day,
another might not.
If drinking a little alcohol causes you a problem, you need to
rethink your drinking. If alcohol causes you to miss work or school or work or
school duties, have trouble with your relationships, or get in legal trouble,
seek help. Women who are pregnant or people who have a history of alcohol abuse
should not drink at all.
Cutting back or stopping on your own
If you have been diagnosed as
dependent on alcohol, you probably cannot stop or cut
back on your own. It would be best to stop drinking, and you'll probably need
help to stop.
If you are not dependent on alcohol, you may be able to cut back on
your own, but it's easier and safer to do it with a doctor's help.
Department of Health and Human Services (1998).
Substance abuse among older adults. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP), Series 26 (DHHS Publication No. SMA 98-3179). Available
Primary Medical Reviewer
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
January 26, 2010
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
January 26, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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