Does your aging parent or spouse have an alcohol problem? Do you know the signs of alcohol abuse? April is Alcohol Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to take stock of whether alcohol may be interfering with the quality of life of anyone in your household.
Abuse of alcohol and other substances appears to be increasing among seniors. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of people 50 years or older who sought treatment for substance abuse issues increased by 70%; in 2008, 1 in 8 people who applied for substance abuse treatment were in this age group. Additionally, 80% of seniors seeking treatment have problems with alcohol rather than with other substances.
Excessive drinking creates numerous social, familial, and emotional difficulties for anyone, but senior alcoholism also puts people at risk for many physical issues, may interfere with medical treatments, and may increase the risk of falling and damaging weak bones.
Even those who were not heavy drinkers when young may find themselves drinking more than they should as they age. There are several reasons for this, including loneliness, isolation, depression, and grief due to the loss of a spouse or other loved ones.
How do you know if a senior is drinking too much?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that people age 65 and over are drinking in a risky manner if they have more than seven drinks per week or more than three in one day. That doesn’t mean that a person who exceeds this limit is becoming drunk; however, drinking more than this can create situations which can negatively impact health, even if such ones are not what is socially considered drunk.
Here are some common symptoms of problematic relationships with alcohol:
- An inability to limit alcohol intake
- An increasing need for alcohol
- Drinking in secret
- Sweating, nausea, and shaking when deprived of drink
- Memory loss
- Loss of interest in things that once gave pleasure
In seniors, these are some other common symptoms that can be caused by alcohol dependence:
- Accidents and falls
- Withdrawing from those around you
- Skipping doctor’s appointments and not taking prescribed medicines
- Gastrointestinal tract issues
One thing that you may have noticed is that many of these symptoms are the same as the symptoms of many other senior-related issues such as dementia or depression. Diagnosing an alcohol issue in aging parents and others can be challenging; for this reason, it is a good idea for caregivers to be especially observant. Make note of any possible symptoms and how often they occur. Keep track of how much your loved one is drinking and be on the lookout for any signs that he or she may be engaging in secret drinking.
If you suspect that your loved one has a problem with alcohol, contact a doctor for advice and help. Consider speaking with a social worker or getting in touch with an organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon.
Alcohol issues can present enormous challenges; however, because of the large impact that these issues can have on your loved one, yourself, and your entire family, confronting those challenges is essential.