What’s different about alcohol for older people?
As we get older our bodies change. On the outside we notice lines, wrinkles, extra weight. Our skin is perhaps not quite as strong or flexible as it used to be. On the inside we:
- lose muscle
- gain fat
- break down alcohol more slowly.
This means that we become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. We also react more slowly and tend to lose our sense of balance. So, even if we drink the same amount of alcohol, as we get older it is likely to affect us more than younger people.
How might an older person develop an alcohol problem?
About a third of older people with drinking problems (mainly women) develop them for the first time in later life. Bereavement, physical ill-health, difficulty getting around and social isolation can lead to boredom and depression. Physical illness may be painful and it can be tempting to use alcohol to make these difficulties more bearable. It may become a bigger part of our daily routine and become difficult to give up. There may be less pressure to give up drinking than for a younger person, fewer family responsibilities and no pressure to go to work each day.
It is possible that health professionals don’t spot heavy drinking in older people as often as they should, because:
- Older people tend not to talk about their drinking perhaps because of embarrassment
- They mistake the effects of alcohol for a physical or mental health problem
- They forget that older people may develop drink problems so they don’t look for them
- They don’t have time to ask older people about their drinking