Senior Citizens and Alcoholism

Dr. Purushothaman
September 9, 2013

Compared to alcoholism among young adults, alcohol abuse among elderly people is rarely discussed. However, addiction experts have known about this problem for a long time. Studies over the last three decades show that alcoholism among elderly people is alarmingly high in the United States. Unfortunately, very few rehabilitation clinics have created specialized treatment programs to address the issue. Whether they developed their addictions at a younger age or didn’t begin heavy drinking until they were older, many seniors abuse alcohol for the latter ten, twenty, or even thirty years of their lives. It is critical that society understands and addresses this problem, especially since baby boomers are beginning to retire in massive numbers.

Though people rarely associate addictions with elderly people, alcoholism is quite common among senior citizens. One possible reason why so few recognize this problem is that older, more experienced alcoholics may be more adept at concealing their problems. According to a 2000 study by Sally K Rigler of the KU School of Medicine, heavy drinking was reported in thirteen percent of men and two percent of women ages sixty to ninety-four. She writes that on average, six percent of elderly people consume three or more drinks per day.

This figure may be inaccurately low, however. Many senior citizens lie about their alcohol use because they fear having their rights taken away or being put into nursing homes against their wills. The problem could also be worse than statistics suggest because senior citizens who abuse alcohol are likely to abuse other substances, as well. They may develop addictions to their prescription medications, but older alcoholics are also believed to be more likely to abuse tobacco and even illegal drugs. This could further skew statistics, since anyone using illicit substances might lie to avoid legal penalties. Overall, the current body of evidence does not provide a clear understanding of the problem at hand.

Addiction specialists do understand that senior citizens tend to be less socially active than younger people. They have fewer close relationships, and their slower lifestyles often make them feel isolated from younger family members. Elderly people also tend to suffer the losses of friends quite often as they grow older, further shrinking their social circles. These diminishing personal connections can easily lead to depression, antisocial behaviors, and self-medication. Because of elderly people’s heightened risk for substance abuse, society must learn to recognize the warning signs of alcoholism. They include:

Obsessive behavior:

Alcoholics young and old often talk constantly about drinking. They discuss new bars or liquor stores, people they drink with, and their favorite drinks. They may even shamelessly talk about the large amounts of alcohol they regularly consume. Without realizing it, many alcoholics glorify the behaviors that are consuming and destroying their lives.

Lack of Self-Control:

It is common for people with substance abuse problems to utterly lose their ability to control their consumption. Alcoholics may forget when in the day they started drinking, whether or not they drank the previous few days, or how many drinks are currently in their bodies. They often exhibit extremely inappropriate or outrageous behavior while drunk. However, some alcoholics can also disguise their lack of self-control by drinking alone or moderating their drinking when around other people.


The clearest sign of any addiction is the continuation of harmful behaviors in the face of large and obvious consequences. Alcoholics will continue to drink obsessively as their personal relationships, careers, and families fall apart. An additional consequence for elderly alcoholics is mental degradation. Studies have shown that older people who drink heavily are more likely to experience memory loss and other cognitive difficulties.

Although these signs are typical of alcoholics, many people are able to conceal their drinking problems and maintain orderly lives. This is one reason why so few people recognize the problem of alcohol abuse in elderly people. Older alcoholics may have developed their problems when they were younger and become adept at managing or hiding their addictions.

Overall, the combination of senior citizens’ heightened risks for alcoholism and the public’s lack of awareness about elderly alcohol abuse is a serious national problem. If you know a senior citizen who is currently struggling with this addiction, or if you need help with your own substance abuse problems, use the links below to get help now. Our dedicated addiction specialists are standing by for your free, no-obligation consultation. Get your life back on track today.

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