Alcohol Abuse Silently Rising in the Older Population

A recent study reported that elders are more at risk for alcohol abuse than those from a younger generation. In this study of Australians, older and younger generations were reported to binge drink for very different reasons and at different rates, and the former group has to consider complications with alcohol intake that the younger set does not.

Peninsula Health, in Melbourne, conducted a study of more than 100 retiree-age and older people. Two-thirds were labeled as excessive alcohol drinkers, and more than 10 percent were considered at risk of developing health problems due to their alcohol intake.

Studies revealed that older Australians binge drink for different reasons than the younger generation. Psychologist Stephen Bright, designer of the OWL program (Older Wiser Lifestyle), said that older drinkers often drink out of grief and loneliness, while younger drinkers binge drink to enjoy parties and social gatherings. He has had patients of OWL who have admitted to drinking excessively and regularly after the loss of a spouse and after the loss of friends and social contacts through retirement.

Hidden dangers can sneak up on the older generation when they drink out of grief or habit. While younger Australians may drink excessively at social occasions, studies show that older Australians tend to drink more often, more regularly. With these regular, casual drinks they may not realize how much alcohol they are really consuming over time. Another impact this age group must consider is the serious complications that could occur when they mix alcohol and prescription drugs. Bright encourages doctors to counsel their patients carefully on the implications of mixing certain drugs with alcoholic beverages.

Bright’s OWL program is designed to aid older citizens in making wise choices about not consuming alcohol excessively after they have assessed their drinking habits. They also discuss with them how much alcohol is safe to consume with medications they are currently taking. Bright touts the benefits of such a necessary program for seniors who may just need some education and guidance in order to stay safe and healthy, and sees promise in it helping more than just local older citizens if it were to branch out nationally.

There is not one quick fix to this problem of excessive consumption of alcohol by older persons. He stresses that each individual would have to consider what medications might interfere and what health problems the alcohol may aggravate. But with the findings of this study, it is apparent that there needs to be more communication and education with the older population on the dangers of alcohol consumption.