For older adults, alcohol poses a higher-than-normal risk to health

As we age, our bodies become less tolerant of alcohol, which can lead to falls, automobile accidents and other injuries.

As a clinical psychologist who works with many retired older adults, I’ve encountered several who are drinking more than they did when they were working. A martini before dinner, a shared bottle of wine with dinner, followed by an after-dinner brandy can result in a very tipsy older adult. Retired adults have time on their hands and don’t have to show up for work the next day, and alcohol consumption can easily ramp up.

There are a number of statistics that set off alarm bells. Between 2010 and 2020, the population of adults age 65 and over grew to 55.8 million people — baby boomers represent a huge bubble in our population, and they are retiring in record numbers.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a survey indicated that 20% of adults age 60-64 and 10% over age 65 report current binge drinking. These numbers may be much higher since many adults minimize their alcohol consumption.

Why is this so concerning?

As we age, our bodies become less tolerant of alcohol, putting older individuals at a greater risk for falls, automobile accidents and other unintentional injuries. The consequences of accidental falls become more severe as we age. When alcohol abuse is combined with mobility problems, the risk of an emergency room visit significantly increases.

Growing older comes with increased health problems, and heavy drinking can make these problems worse — bringing on diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and osteoporosis, to name a few. Furthermore, these health conditions result in more than one medication that can mix badly with alcohol.

Also, as we get older, sleep problems become more common. Many older adults use alcohol to help them fall asleep. However, alcohol is not an effective sleep aid; it disrupts sleep patterns, leading to more frequent awakenings and, overall, less sleep.

So, what should older adults do?

• Pay attention to how much you’re drinking. The NIAAA recommends that senior men should have no more than two drinks per evening and women one drink.

• Pay attention to what others are saying to you about your alcohol consumption. Spouses and adult children may say something to you about your alcohol use. Listen to what they have to say and consider their observations.

• Ask yourself: “Has my drinking been increasing? Why?” Multiple studies suggest that during the pandemic, about 25% of people drank more than usual, often to cope with stress.

• Talk to your primary care provider. Let your primary care provider know about your alcohol consumption. Be honest. Your provider can connect you with resources that can help you.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at Optum Care Washington, formerly The Everett Clinic.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Urban treats prove Switzerland is more than its pristine alpine meadows

For interesting art, colorful old towns and serene waterfront settings, be sure to stop in Zürich, Luzern and Lausanne.

Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Hop on over to Whidbey Island for a garden tour on Saturday, then rock out with local bands in Everett on Saturday night.

Subaru Forester Touring SUV (Photo provided by Subaru)
2025 Subaru Forester Touring

Don’t look now, the 2025 model year vehicles are beginning to hit… Continue reading

Great Plant Pick: Sapphire indigo clematis

What: A profusion of royal purple flowers burst forth in early summer… Continue reading

Decorative floral violet background from a blooming Nepeta cataria catnip, catswort, catmint with bright bee.
Please pollinators with perennials like hyssop, catmint and cape fuschia

Newer cultivars of perennials simply bloom longer, quenching our cravings for color and extending the benefit to bees.

Mountlake Terrace maintenance crew Ty Burns begins demolishing “the bunkers” on Monday, June 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Eyesore no more: After decades, Mountlake Terrace bunkers bite the dust

The bunkers held a storehouse of history, much of it moldy, outdated and unwanted.

Hitting a homer is hard for most. On this machine, we all have a chance

This restored 1930s Jennings slot machine — with candy prizes for knocking it out of the park — sold for $3,840 at auction.

Airbnb host banned after spilling food in another host’s home

Airbnb bans River Roberts after he accidentally spills food on his host’s sofa. Will he ever be able to book another rental?

The secret to getting ahead at work? A sense of service to others

In contrast, employees who are more focused on their own needs often feel frustrated, underappreciated and unmotivated.

Leslie Davis, left, and Lyndsay Lamb, twin sister stars of HGTV's "Unsellable Houses" and 2004 Snohomish High School graduates, donated a private design session to the school's auction fundraiser for their 20-year reunion. (Photo provided)
Got $2,000? Bid on face time with HGTV’s ‘Unsellable Houses’ twins

The sisters are offering up themselves in a fundraiser for their Class of 2004 Snohomish High 20-year reunion.

Rose Freeman (center) and Anastasia Allison of The Musical Mountaineers play atop Sauk Mountain near Concrete in October 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Musical Mountaineers’ sunset serenade to launch Adopt a Stream campaign

The nonprofit aims to transform into an “accessible model of sustainability,” with solar panels, electric vehicles and more.

Joe Nichols will play Renegades in West Palm Beach on Saturday.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Country artist Joe Nichols comes to Tulalip Resort Casino on Saturday and the Edmonds Arts Festival offers three days of art.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.