Alcoholism or alcohol abuse is something that’s most often associated with younger or perhaps middle-aged adults. In fact, alcoholism amongst the older generations is something that is quite often hidden or even overlooked. One of the reasons for this is because, as we get older, we naturally become less social and a lot of older people’s social circles are naturally declining. Furthermore, doctors may miss the signs of alcoholism in the elderly as they are often similar to some of the natural signs of aging, such as trouble sleeping, depression or memory difficulties.
The Extent of Alcoholism in the Over 65s
Research has shown that 6-11% of elderly people that are admitted to hospital showed signs of alcoholism, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. This figure increases to 20% when talking about admissions to psychiatric units.
Early-onset and Late-onset Alcoholism
Essentially, there are two categories of alcoholism in the over 65s: those who have what’s called “early-onset alcoholism” and those who have “late-onset alcoholism”.
Early-onset alcoholism describes people who have a pattern of alcoholism that began when they were much younger or that they have had for most of their adult life. These people more often than not have poor relationships with their family and may have family members who have been prone to alcohol abuse. Furthermore, this category have often suffered some sort of socioeconomic decline. Of all elderly people who suffer from alcoholism, three quarters of them belong in this category, according to the experts.
Those who fall into the late-onset alcoholism category begin drinking much later in their lives. Their relationship with alcohol usually starts in their 40s or 50s. A lot of this group fall into the highly educated groups and have gained a higher than average socioeconomic status. Most of these people suffer alcoholism due to experiencing a traumatic event or from having a difficult time. It is the later-onset alcoholism that has been deemed a ‘worrying trend’
The Effects of Retirement
Many people look forward to the day they retire. It’s one of life’s major events as far as a person is concerned. They give up their work, which for some is a big part of their identity. Quite often, retirement is a hard transition for the over 65s. This takes its toll and is often a causal factor in late-onset alcoholism. The older generations can suddenly experience feelings of loneliness or boredom and can even feel like their life lacks meaning or purpose. Such negative feelings often add to and exacerbate alcohol consumption.
Getting older has many downsides and one of these is losing those that we love. Of course, death and dying can occur at any age but by the time we reach our mid-sixties we are often saying goodbye to lifelong friends, very elderly parents (if we haven’t already) and possibly even a spouse. These bereavements can all add to the likelihood of someone becoming dependent on alcohol later in life. Alcohol is a known for its numbing properties. It helps relieve pain, to calm down our emotions and even allows people to experience a sense of happiness, albeit in the short term. In this way, the elderly (like the rest of us) try to forget about their sadness and their troubles, trying to numb the pain that they are suffering.
What to look for if you Suspect an Older Person is suffering from Alcoholism
The elderly are no less prone to lying about their alcohol consumption than the rest of the population so sometimes it’s wise to look for signs in your loved ones that their relationship with alcohol has perhaps become problematic. The signs and symptoms of alcoholism are not that different in an elderly person than they are in any adult. However, age can often make some symptoms more pronounced, such as them having more gaps in their memory.
Elderly people often bruise more easily than younger people so watch out for unexplained bruises. They might become more confused or suffer from anxiety or depression and begin to neglect their diet, pets and appearance. Likewise, household chores and paying bills may become less of a priority. Sometimes, these symptoms are confused for those generally associated with old age so it’s easier to miss.
With increasing age, alcohol can have even greater effects and drinking it can do even more damage than it does for younger people due to the diminished ratio of water in the body compared with body fat. Therefore it is all the more important to look further if you do suspect that someone you know is suffering from alcoholism in older age.