By Steven Reinberg
"As we age, it takes longer for the body to break down alcohol. It stays in the system longer. Tolerance also decreases. Excessive drinking can compromise your immune system and can lead to some forms of cancer," said Brad Lander, an addiction medicine specialist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
As you age, your drinking habits may change. Social drinking when you're young may turn to drinking to relieve boredom, loneliness and grief, which are common with aging. The risk of becoming an alcoholic is greater for women than men, Lander noted.
Also, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, even after you stop drinking, alcohol continues to enter the bloodstream, resulting in impaired judgment and coordination for hours.
"It also can decrease the effectiveness of some medications and highly accelerate others, including over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, sleeping pills and others," Lander added in a center news release.
Alcohol abuse can also cause problems with balance and reaction times, increasing the chances of accidents and falls.
Excessive drinking can also increase the odds of dementia, depression, suicide and impaired sexual functioning, Lander said.
However, the differences between safe, moderate and heavy drinking is different for everyone.
"But the general rule of thumb is to take a close look and honestly assess if drinking is causing any life problems. If it's causing difficulties with your health, relationships, daily functioning or emotions, then it's too much," Lander said.
The average senior should drink no more than seven drinks in a week and no more than three drinks in one day.
Research has shown that only about 2 percent of people who drink within these limits develop an alcohol problem, Lander explained.
He recommends that seniors drink in moderation at social gatherings and eat to slow the absorption of alcohol and lower the peak level of alcohol in the body.
"A lot of drinking is 'thoughtless,' so simply ask yourself, 'Do I really want a [or another] drink?' Remember, you don't have to drink," Lander said.