You might associate the need for April’s Alcohol Awareness Month with initiatives needed on college campuses. But adults of all ages need to be more conscious of their alcohol consumption, and because the effects of alcohol can grow more serious with age, we feel a reminder for older adults is in order, too.
Why awareness? Denial is a big part of the problem with alcohol. We might all be aware of the negative health effects of drinking too much, and almost anyone can tell you that drinking and driving is dangerous. And yet, many people remain in the dark about their own habits. They know that excessive drinking causes problems, but can’t or won’t admit that they, themselves, drink excessively.
If you spot these signs in yourself or a loved one, it might be time to seek a substance abuse program:
- Experiencing blackouts or short term memory loss
- Irritability or extreme mood swings
- Choosing drinking over other obligations and responsibilities
- Acting distant or detached from family and friends
- Hiding the habit or the evidence, or lying about number of drinks
- Making excuses for drinking
- Drinking first thing in the morning
- Loss of interest in other activities
- Urges or cravings for alcohol
- Frequently drinking more than you had planned
Alcoholism in older adults. Yes, older adults can suffer from alcoholism, too. In fact, nearly 2.8 million adults over the age of 50 suffered from substance abuse disorders between 2002 and 2006, with the number steadily growing. That figure is expected to double by 2020, to about 5.7 million.
Potential health complications. Aside from the personal, social, and financial ramifications of excess drinking, many health conditions are complicated by alcoholism. This is particularly true as we get older. Alcohol consumption can cause, or complicate, a variety of conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular problems
- Liver disease
Frequent alcohol use can also interfere in the absorption or effectiveness of many prescription medications, or even create a dangerous drug interaction. Plus, drinking can contribute to cognitive decline and mental/emotional health problems.
If you are worried about alcoholism in yourself or your spouse, help is available. Talk to your primary care physician, who can refer you to both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.