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As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the prevalence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) among seniors increases.
Data shows about 6 percent of older people drink heavily – consuming 15 or more drinks per week (men) and 8 or more drinks per week (women). The majority of them are older men. Understanding the reasons older people drink and knowing the treatment options available help if you or a senior loved one struggles with AUD.
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Widowers over the age of 75 tend to struggle the most with alcohol use disorder. More than 10 percent of all hospital admissions among the elderly are linked to drug and alcohol use. It’s estimated that more than half of all nursing home residents have alcohol-related problems.
Why do seniors struggle so much with alcoholism? There are many reasons, including:
Some seniors use alcohol as a coping tool to help them deal with the challenges they face in their later years. There is no single cause of alcoholism in the elderly. Like cases of alcoholism in any other age group, the reasons are as varied as the individuals with the problem. The challenges that occur as we age are as difficult as those we face at any age and many turn to alcohol to cope.
Knowing the symptoms of AUD in older people helps you recognize if you or a loved one has a problem.
Some seniors feel as if they have “outlived their usefulness.”
Their children are grown, they’ve retired, and they don’t have the same responsibilities they did when they were younger.
Some people welcome the relief of having no obligations, but others struggle with it. Some turn to alcohol to escape these negative feelings. Instead of searching for meaning later in life, they use alcohol as a coping strategy.
The health risks associated with alcoholism are abundant at any age. However, because it becomes more challenging to maintain good health as we age, the effects of drinking too much alcohol are especially detrimental for seniors.
Some of the most common health risks associated with elderly alcoholism include:
Seniors already have a heightened risk of many of these health issues. Drinking too much alcohol further increases the risks they face.
Is it possible for seniors to overcome alcoholism? Are there treatment options geared toward seniors?
Yes. There are several treatments available to help seniors with alcohol use disorder.
Some of the most common treatment approaches include:
Although it’s possible to participate in a generic treatment program for adults, many seniors benefit from treatment in a facility tailored to their age group. These programs tend to have a slower pace and are less confrontational than some of the other options.
Alcohol and addiction treatment programs for the elderly also have medical staff that’s familiar with and capable of managing other medical issues associated with older people. Programs for the elderly offer inpatient, outpatient, and community-based support. There are also 12-step programs designed for older people.
Medication-assisted alcohol treatment is rarely used for seniors. This is because two of the medications - Disulfiram and naltrexone - are not considered safe for older patients with AUD. Disulfiram increases the risk of serious side effects in seniors. Naltrexone, which reduces alcohol cravings, has not been evaluated in the treatment of older patients.
Doctors encourage family members of seniors with AUD to take an active role in their loved one’s recovery.
Family support is important for more people with addiction, but it’s especially so for older adults who need cognitive and physical support. For some, transitioning from a treatment program to a nursing home is the safest and healthiest option.
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