Elderly Alcoholism: Seldom Discussed but a Growing Problem

a senior man drinking from a whisky bottleAlcohol abuse in the elderly is a common problem and most times go untreated.

More often than not as a person ages they have an increasing amount of depression.

Alcoholism among the elderly is more hidden than in any other age group because of the social isolation, loneliness and depression that often accompanies the aging process. Between 4 – 6 percent of people 65 and older suffer from alcoholism and other drug abuse. The aging process creates an elderly alcoholic and they turn to the drink as a form of self-medication.

“Many elderly people use drink as self-medication for depression and loneliness,” said Dr. Michael L. Freedman of the New York University Medical Center. ”Alcohol is one of the few substances one can buy for this without a prescription. Of course, it does provide some initial relief – but in the long term, alcoholism makes you more depressed.”

Alcoholism in the elderly is only now gaining attention because of the change in society. Many older people grew up in a society where drinking was not only socially acceptable but expected among certain social groups. In many family environments, alcoholism has a negative social stigma so it went untreated. This tendency is especially true when dealing with elderly women who are alcoholics. Today, people are more open about alcohol abuse and treatment programs. Many elderly people who grew up as alcoholics and were considered “functioning alcoholics” have family members that are staging interventions.

Elderly Alcohol Abuse Treatment

“The treatment of alcoholism in the elderly is more successful than at other stages of the life cycle,” said Dr. Dan G. Blazer, an expert on patterns of alcohol abuse who teaches at the Duke University Medical School.

“Older people can more easily see the impact of alcohol on their health,” he explained. “And the families of many older persons often rally to get them into a treatment program.”
But he added, “The alcoholics who have no families and the skid-row alcoholics are tough to treat because they have no motivation.”

“Elderly people tend not to be excited about A.A.” Dr. Blazer added. “In some A.A. groups, elderly people may feel a bit uncomfortable and out of place.”

Doctors and family members may be reluctant to confront an elderly person about their excessive drinking because it is a sensitive issue but the results of inaction are life threatening. There are now specific programs designed for an elderly alcoholic that treats both the long-term alcoholic and also an elderly person that develops alcoholism due to their environment.


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