Alcohol and Aging: The Hidden Dangers, and How to Help

alcohol and agingDuring the season of hot toddies and champagne toasts, it’s important for all of us to be aware of the adverse effects of overindulging in alcohol, but even more so for the seniors in our lives to avoid potential health risks. Take, for example, the recommendations of The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which advises that people over age 65 should have no more than three drinks in a 24-hour period, or seven drinks total in one week.

How the body handles alcohol can change dramatically with age. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger, so your loved one may have the same drinking habits, but his or her body has changed, medication has been added or a health condition has developed, all of which can intensify the effects of alcohol. The combination of alcohol and aging puts seniors at higher risk for falls, car accidents, and other accidental injuries.


Certain health problems are common in older adults, and drinking alcohol can make these conditions worse:

  • Immune system disorders
  • Ulcers
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancers
  • Memory problems
  • Mood disorders


Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can be dangerous and even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Since the majority of older adults typically take at least one medication daily, and many take multiple medications each day, it’s important to make certain your loved one has checked with his or her doctor or pharmacist to ensure it’s safe to drink alcohol. Here are some common medications that can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol:

  • Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen
  • Cold and allergy medicine
  • Cough syrup
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Laxatives
  • Sleeping medication
  • Pain medication


Of course, you cannot force your loved one to stop drinking, but you can come prepared with information on the health and safety risks associated with drinking and offer support. A discussion about the health problems or medication dangers that can increase with alcohol use is an important conversation to have. These tips can help seniors cut back on their alcohol consumption:

  • Count how many ounces of alcohol are in each drink.
  • Keep track of the number of drinks consumed each day.
  • Ask your loved one to decide how many days a week he or she plans to drink.
  • Suggest planning some days that are free of alcohol.
  • Find some healthy alternatives to the senior’s alcoholic beverage choice and replace with that beverage on off days or in between drinks.
  • Advise your loved one to not have more than one alcoholic drink in an hour. In place of the alcohol, replace with the non-alcoholic drink of choice.
  • Advise your loved one to always eat or nibble when drinking and eat prior to drinking. Alcohol will enter the system more slowly with food in the stomach.

If your loved one wants to stop drinking altogether, but isn’t able to do it on his or her own, there is help. Start by talking with his or her doctor for advice about treatment. Local health departments or social services agencies may also be helpful. Here are some other tips to try:

  • Talk to a trained counselor who knows about alcohol problems in older people.
  • Find a support group for people with alcohol problems, like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), or Smart Recovery.
  • Locate a therapist for individual, family or group therapy, whatever works best for your loved one.

And, call on Nightingale Homecare for more help keeping your senior loved ones safe and healthy with our professional Arizona home health care services! You can reach us any time at 602-504-1555.