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Alcohol: A Women's Health Issue - Part 6

Drinking Among Older Women

As they grow older, fewer women drink. At the same time, research suggests that people born in recent decades are more likely to drink—throughout life—than people born in the early 1900s. Elderly patients are admitted to hospitals about as often for alcohol-related causes as for heart attacks.

Older women may be especially sensitive to the stigma of being alcoholic, and therefore hesitate to admit if they have a drinking problem.

Consequences of Unsafe Drinking

  • Older women, more than any other group, use medications that can affect mood and thought, such as those for anxiety and depression. These "psychoactive" medications can interact with alcohol in harmful ways.
  • Research suggests that women may be more likely to develop or to show alcohol problems later in life, compared with men.

Age and Alcohol

Aging seems to reduce the body's ability to adapt to alcohol. Older adults reach higher blood levels of alcohol even when drinking the same amount as younger people. This is because, with aging, the amount of water in the body is reduced and alcohol becomes more concentrated. But even at the same blood alcohol level, older adults may feel some of the effects of alcohol more strongly than younger people.

Alcohol problems among older people often are mistaken for other aging-related conditions. As a result, alcohol problems may be missed and untreated by health care providers, especially in older women.

Staying Well

Older women need to be aware that alcohol will "go to their head" more quickly than when they were younger. Also, caregivers need to know that alcohol may be the cause of problems assumed to result from age, such as depression, sleeping problems, eating poorly, heart failure, and frequent falls.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that people ages 65 and older limit their consumption of alcohol to one drink per day.

An important point is that older people with alcohol problems respond to treatment as well as younger people. Those with shorter histories of problem drinking do better in treatment than those with long-term drinking problems.

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Source: NIH Publication No. 08–4956
Revised 2008

Page last modified or reviewed by athealth on January 29, 2014