Friday, June 22, 2012

UPC Weekly Blog 6/22/12: Seniors and Alcohol

As schools begin long awaited summer vacations I’d like to turn my attention to senior citizens for a few weeks.

While seniors are still under-represented in treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that admissions for substance abuse treatment for people age 50 and older nearly doubled between 1992 and 2008. Alcohol abuse remains the leading cause of substance abuse hospitalizations for seniors.

The site provides a wealth of information regarding seniors and alcohol abuse, including the following:

As people age, they may become more sensitive to alcohol's effects. One reason is that older people metabolize, or break down, alcohol more slowly than younger people. So, alcohol stays in their bodies longer. Also, the amount of water in the body is reduced with age. As a result, older adults have a higher percentage of alcohol in their blood than younger people after drinking the same amount of alcohol.
Aging lowers the body's tolerance for alcohol. This means that older adults can experience the effects of alcohol, such as slurred speech and lack of coordination, more readily than when they were younger. An older person can develop problems with alcohol even though his or her drinking habits have not changed.
Drinking too much alcohol can cause health problems. Heavy drinking over time can damage the liver, the heart, and the brain. It can increase the risk of developing certain cancers, damage muscles and cause immune system disorders. It can also increase the chances of getting osteoporosis, a common disease in older adults, especially women. Osteoporosis makes bones weaker and more likely to break.
Drinking too much alcohol can make some health conditions worse. These conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, and memory problems. They also include mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Adults with major depression are more likely than adults without major depression to have alcohol problems.
Many older adults take medicines, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs, and herbal remedies. Drinking alcohol can cause certain medicines to not work properly and other medicines to become more dangerous or even deadly. Mixing alcohol and some medicines can cause sleepiness, confusion, or lack of coordination, which may lead to accidents and injuries. It also may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, and other health problems.
Dozens of medicines interact with alcohol, with possible negative effects. Here are some examples.
  • Taking aspirin or arthritis medications and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of bleeding in the stomach.
  • Taking the painkiller acetaminophen in large doses and drinking alcohol can increase the chances of liver damage.
  • Cold and allergy medicines that contain antihistamines often make people sleepy. Drinking alcohol can make this drowsiness worse and impair coordination.
  • Drinking alcohol and taking some medicines that aid sleep, reduce pain, or relieve anxiety or depression can cause sleepiness and poor coordination.
  • Drinking alcohol and taking medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers, gout, and heart failure can make those conditions worse.
Medications stay in the body for at least several hours. So, there can still be a problem if a senior drinks alcohol hours after taking a pill. Some medication labels warn people not to drink alcohol when taking the medicine.

Cheryl DePaolo
Ulster Prevention Council, Director

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