Alcohol and Older Adults

Many older adults enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a beer while watching the game on TV. Having a drink now and then is fine — as long as you don’t overdo it. Alcohol may affect older adults differently than younger adults.

Alcohol and aging

As you age, you become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects. After age 65, your lean body mass and water content decrease. In addition, your metabolism slows down. Alcohol stays in your system longer so the amount of alcohol in your blood is higher than it would have been when you were younger.

Older adults also are more likely to have hearing and vision problems and slower reaction times. This puts them at higher risk for falls, fractures, and automobile accidents tied to drinking.

Some medical conditions in people older than age 65, and the medications used to treat them, can worsen with alcohol's effects. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and ulcers. Heavy alcohol use can lead to other health problems:

Alcohol is also linked to mental health problems like depression and suicide in older adults.

Drug interactions

Medications taken by older adults are more likely to have serious interactions with alcohol and drugs, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Many prescribed and over-the-counter medications and herbal products can interact negatively with alcohol. Medications and alcohol can interact even if they’re not taken at the same time. That's because the drug may still be in your blood when you have a drink.

What’s a safe amount?

The NIAAA recommends that people older than age 65 who are healthy and do not take any medications, have no more than 7 drinks a week, an average of 1 standard drink each day and no more than 3 drinks on any 1 day. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, ale, or wine cooler; 8 ounces of malt liquor; 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor.

How to cut down

If you want to limit your drinking or your health care provider suggests it, try these steps from the National Institutes of Health:

1. Write down your reasons for cutting back. These might include wanting to improve your health or sleep better. Other reasons may be to improve relationships and to stay independent.

2. Track your drinking habits for at least 1 week. Write down when and how much you drink every day.

3. Set a drinking goal. You may decide to cut down to 1 drink a day or to not drink at all. Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it where you will see it every day.

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