| Thu, Nov 13, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Drinking can be Risky Business for Some Older Adults

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

binge drinkingThe holidays have arrived and for a lot of people that means more drinking — and more problems. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2010 found that nearly 40 percent of adults age 65 and older drink alcohol.1

Generally, older adults don’t drink as much as younger people, but they can still have a drinking problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while binge drinking is more common among people ages 18 to 34, binge drinkers ages 65 and older report binge drinking more often — an average of five to six times a month.2

Consumption Guidelines

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, recommends that people over age 65 should have no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks on any one day. If you have a health problem or if you are taking certain medicines, talk to your doctor to find out if you should drink less or not drink at all.3

When Does Drinking Become A Problem?

Some people have been heavy drinkers for years while other people develop a drinking problem later in life. Even a person who is a moderate drinker may experience problems because alcohol metabolizes slower in an older adult and stays in the body longer. Plus, as a person ages, there isn’t as much water in the body, so when a person drinks, the blood alcohol level increases. A higher blood alcohol level may cause a number of problems, like slurred speech, loss of balance and falls, and car accidents.

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider to find out if it’s safe to drink alcohol while taking certain medicines.

  • Aspirin: may increase risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding
  • Cold and allergy medications: may increase risk of drowsiness
  • Cough syrup and laxatives containing large amounts of alcohol: may increase blood alcohol level
  • Acetaminophen (painkiller): may increase risk of liver damage
  • Some sleeping pills, pain pills or anxiety/anti-depression medications: may increase risk of death

Other dangers older adults may face due to excessive drinking:

  • Liver disease or cirrhosis
  • Memory loss or shrinkage of the brain
  • Heart damage
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast
  • Being the victim of or committing physical assault
  • Suicide

Sometimes, problem drinking in an older adult may start as the result of a major life change or condition.

  • Death of a spouse or loved one
  • Retirement, especially in men
  • Moving to a new home
  • Failing health or disability
  • Boredom
  • Depression, loneliness or feelings of hopelessness
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems

Watch this video to learn more about what may trigger drinking problems in older adults and the warning signs.

Test your knowledge about alcohol use and older adults.

If you suspect you or a loved one may have a drinking problem, talk to a doctor during your Medicare Wellness Visit or make an appointment sooner. Medicare Part B covers certain outpatient mental health services for treatment of inappropriate alcohol and drug use. Medicare only covers these visits, often called counseling or therapy, when they’re provided by a health care provider who accepts Medicare assignment. Some Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) or Medicare supplement plans may cover in-patient alcohol addiction treatment programs. Check with your plan for coverage details.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


Alcohol Use and Older Adults: NIH–National Institutes on Aging, Senior Health

Original Medicare Parts A and B: Learn what’s covered and what’s not with Original Medicare.

Medicare.gov: Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare.

1 Alcohol Use and Older Adults, What is Alcohol?: NIH – National Institute on Aging

2 Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

3 Alcohol Use and Older People, If You Drink: NIH – National Institute on Aging


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