Addiction, Health, Behaviour Change | CGL

Older people and drinking: what you should know

pint glasses

Older people and drinking: what you should know

8 June 2017

Alcohol can be used to cover up problems, in social situations to help build confidence and also as a way of relaxing. However drinking too much can have a detrimental effect on your physical and mental health. What are the hidden effects of alcohol on an ageing population? This blog looks at the effects of alcohol on adults aged 55+.

As we get older we can become less sensitive to the effects of alcohol and might not recover as quickly as our younger counterparts.

There are many reasons why an older person might drink too much. For example:

  • bereavement
  • physical ill-health or difficulty getting around
  • becoming a carer
  • loneliness and social isolation
  • changes in life patterns, e.g. no longer working
  • unhappiness

For older people, it is important to set clear drinking limits. Older people who drink too much are more at risk of a range of physical issues like falls and alcohol-related osteoperosis. Alcohol can also worsen existing conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

Alcohol can also affect an individual’s mental health in a variety of ways. Drinking too much on a regular basis can cause:

  • Anxiety: drinking alcohol to ease the symptoms of anxiety can become a vicious circle
  • Depression: drinking too much can increase the risk of developing depression, and drinking while depressed can make existing symptoms worse
  • Confusion: If you drink too much without eating anything, a lack of the vitamin Thiamine can make you confused and unsteady. If this is not treated immediately and with high dose vitamin injections, it can result in permanent damage to your short-term memory – this is called Korsakoff’s syndrome.
  • Dementia: Regularly drinking above recommended limits is seen as one risk factor that contributes towards dementia.

The most important thing to recognise is that you are not alone and there is help available. 

Help that CGL can provide

  • Detoxification – this involves giving medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms. This can happen over a few days or weeks.

  • Support groups such as AA - AA isn’t for everyone and AA tends to work on the premise of abstinence which may not be everyone’s end goal. However they can provide a supportive environment within which people are supported.

  • Talking therapies can be done either in a group or on a one to one basis. CGL has a very comprehensive counselling service as well as tailor made groups. Therapy is not about judgement but about supporting an individual’s journey. Therapy can be difficult at times and it is important to be prepared for setbacks along the way and these should not be seen as failures but part of the process.
  • Regular routines are important so try to make a routine that works for you that does not involve alcohol. Perhaps try and share with friends and family what your intentions are in order to have further support.
  • Addressing the issues that made you turn to alcohol in the first place. Again this can be helped with support groups and one to one therapy.

CGL can offer a wide variety of interventions, so please know that you are not alone in your journey. If you live in the boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham or Kensington & Chelsea, speak to a member of the team at The Alcohol Service to find out how we can help you.