National Alcohol Awareness Month is April, and it’s sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) in an effort to educate the public about the #1 health issue in America today, which is dependence on alcohol.
Individuals over the age of 65 are especially impacted by the effects of alcohol because their bodies simply cannot cope with all the negative impacts it produces. As people age into their senior years, they will typically develop an increased sensitivity to alcohol, often accompanied by dehydration, interactions with medications, and a greater likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the negative effects that excessive alcohol consumption can have on seniors, and why it’s so impactful.
Greater sensitivity to alcohol
There are several reasons why people become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol during their later years. As a person becomes older, it is normal to undergo reduced activity of the enzyme that causes alcohol to be broken down in the body.
The enzyme is known as alcohol dehydrogenase, and it can cause a significant increase in alcohol levels in the bloodstream, which can linger for a much longer period of time than when the person was younger. Concurrently with this decreased enzyme activity, seniors will generally also experience a decline in lean body mass, which leads to higher blood concentrations of alcohol than younger people would normally have following the consumption of a few drinks. It’s also true that seniors are far more likely to experience difficulties with their balance after drinking, and that can cause a much greater incidence of falls and related accidents.
Additional health problems
Any senior who already has some kind of health issue is likely to experience a worsening of that condition if they’re also a heavy drinker. Many health conditions can be made much worse when a person consumes excessive amounts of alcohol. Some of the health issues in this category include the following:
- liver problems
- mood disorders
- high blood pressure
- memory issues
- congestive heart failure.
Any of these health issues are serious enough on their own, but they can be made worse by the effects of heavy drinking. By eliminating the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol, you can at least lessen the severity of whatever health condition you might be experiencing, and then you can focus on resolving that issue.
Many older adults are at an increased risk of experiencing dehydration. This is primarily because as you age, you’ll generally experience a reduced sense of thirst, which means that your renal function is likely to decline, your body mass will probably change, and there will be a shift in the balance between sodium and water in your body. Research has shown a strong correlation between dehydration and accidents involving falls among seniors, discovering that at least 38% of the 30,000 participants were in a state of dehydration. A study performed recently found that 40% of seniors admitted into hospitals showed definite markers for dehydration. The situation can be compounded even more by the fact that alcohol will generally trigger more frequent urination and that in turn, will generally worsen the dehydration situation.
Interactions with medication
There are a great many over-the-counter medications and some supplements and herbal remedies as well, that simply don’t mix well with alcohol. Some of these medications can even become extremely dangerous when ingested with alcohol, occasionally even causing death. Given the fact that 90% of seniors take some form of medication to manage their health conditions, one of the greatest health risks for this group of individuals comes from mixing alcohol with the medications they take.
One study that was conducted recently showed that at least 20% of senior drinkers were taking medications that could potentially have highly negative interactions with alcohol. In other cases, alcohol can cause some medications to become completely ineffective, or to exacerbate some side effects, while other medications caused drug toxicity when mixed with alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has declared that even some very common drugs can have dangerous interactions with alcohol. Some of these include sleeping pills, acetaminophen, aspirin, and cold and allergy medicines.
Greater risk of STDs
One problem that you might not typically associate with senior citizens is an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, but seniors living in communities are especially susceptible to this disease. During the period from 2015 to 2019, there was a significant increase in the diagnosis rates for syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes simplex, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia. One reason for this is that when excessive alcohol is consumed, exhibitions generally will decrease significantly, and it becomes much more likely that an STD can be picked up. The Centers for Disease Control have identified excessive drinking as a major factor in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among seniors, and that’s one reason why they have put out an alert for seniors to avoid excessive alcohol consumption.