In 2013, the Centers for Disease control published a report titled, “The State of Aging & Health in America.” Included in this report was the fact that binge drinking “accounts for more than 21,000 deaths among adults 65 or older each year in the United States.” Elderly alcoholism is a serious problem and can increase the risk of developing life-threatening conditions, like high blood pressure, liver disease and stroke.
The Dangers of Geriatric Binge Drinking
The report also found that while the prevalence of binge drinking among older adults has decreased in recent years, the frequency with which the older demographic participates in binge drinking is the highest of all the age groups. Seniors who binge drink consume an average of six drinks in one sitting, and do so about five or six times a month. This type of heavy drinking not only poses a big risk in terms of long-term health, but many people do not realize that alcohol often interferes with their medications in negative ways. According to the National Institute on Aging, mixing meds and alcohol can raise the risk of internal bleeding, induce drowsiness, or damage vital organs, such as your liver.
Ties to Depression
So why are so many seniors struggling with alcohol abuse? One reason may be depression, which nearly 25 percent of people over the age of 65 struggle with every day. Senior depression can occur for a variety of reasons, including a diminished quality of life, dementia, and disability. Alcohol is an easy way to self-medicate and a common way of coping with loneliness or chronic pain. Many seniors also don’t believe in the healing powers of psychotherapy and carry a lot of pain and anxiety without knowing how to deal with it. Many older adults still feel that there is a stigma attached to professional counseling or any public admission of weakness. It’s often pride and this long-held generational belief that prevents them from actively seeking help for depression or struggles with substance abuse.
Elderly Alcoholism: Tips for Caregivers and Loved Ones
If you know someone who is struggling with feelings of depression or alcohol abuse, it’s important to tread carefully. Your concerns may be met with anger and denial so it’s best to have a plan when trying to talk to a loved one about alcohol abuse.
- Don’t go into it by yourself. If you have friends or family that you can lean on for support it will help. As a caregiver, it’s always best not to bear the burden alone. You could also seek out a professional alcoholism counselor, psychologist, religious figure or social worker to help you navigate this difficult situation.
- If you’re in regular contact with their doctors, it might be best to consult them about the best way to broach the subject. They can also tell you if your loved one is at risk of developing more urgent health concerns due to medications they may be on.
- Research programs for them before you talk. Whether it’s the best rehab in your area or simply a community-based support group, make sure to prepare yourself with informational materials to help them take that first step towards getting help.
- Consider an intervention. If you believe that your loved one’s problem might require more attention than a one-on-one conversation, enlist a group of family members and friends who are willing to help. An intervention will reinforce to your loved one, just how loved they are, and help you show them how their drinking is affecting all of your lives.
The important thing to keep in mind is that both alcoholism and depression are treatable at any age. Hazelden, a well-known addiction center that is part of the Betty Ford Foundation, dedicates an entire section of their website to older adults battling addiction. They provide great resources, including a downloadable packet, “How to Talk to an Older Person Who Has a Problem with Alcohol or Medications” that might prove to be helpful for you as you try to help a loved one who is struggling with addiction.
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Hilary Young is the Communications Manager for Medical Guardian. She helps to keep baby boomers and their loved ones educated about their health and wellbeing. She is also a regular contributor to the Medical Guardian Blog, the Huffington Post, and BlogHer.com.