over 60's - effects of alcohol

Alcohol and the Over 60’s

The number of older people between the ages of 60 and 74 admitted to hospitals in England with mental and behavioural disorders associated with alcohol use has risen by over 150% in the past ten years.

Older people tend to drink less alcohol than younger people, but even so 1 in 5 older men and 1 in 10 older women are drinking enough to harm themselves. These figures have increased by 40 per cent in men and 100 per cent in women over the past 20 years.

Consequences of drinking for older people

Tolerance to alcohol is significantly lowered in the aged person, so it is possible that the same amount of alcohol can have a more detrimental effect than it would on a younger person. Older people are less tolerant to alcohol because of physical effects of ageing such as:

  • Reduced liver function, meaning that alcohol can be less well broken down and be more ‘toxic’.
  • Taking drugs for other conditions and those drugs being adversely affected by alcohol.
  • Do you know that alcohol can cause some drugs to be metabolised differently in the liver, causing drug failure or enhancement – e.g. some diuretics, some , some beta blockers, some antipsychotics, some anticoagulants as well as many more (see below).
  • Feeling the effects of alcohol more strongly, and having reduced capacity to make decisions.
  • Reduced kidney (renal) function meaning that alcohol may be excreted poorly.
  • Poorer balance may mean that falls are more likely.

It is possible that the same amount of alcohol may produce a higher Blood Alcohol Concentration and feeling of intoxication in older people.

Alcohol depresses the brain function to a greater extent in older people, impairing coordination and memory, and exacerbates the likelihood of incontinence, hypothermia, injury by accident, and self-neglect.

Just because we drink within the limits does not mean that it is safe. Very little research has been done on older people so we may be mistaken in thinking that these limits apply to everyone.

There are also some particular problems:

  • health problems can make us more susceptible to alcohol
  • balance gets worse with age – even a small amount of alcohol can make you more unsteady and more likely to fall.

Alcohol can:

  • add to the effect of some medications, e.g. painkillers or sleeping tablets
  • reduce the effect of others, e.g. medication to thin the blood (warfarin) – this can increase the risk of bleeding or developing a clot or blockage in your bloodstream.

Always make sure your prescriber knows about your alcohol intake.

More information about the risks of drinking for over 60’s (PDF 507kb)