Office for the Aging


April is Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Alcohol abuse and misuse among older adults does not have to be a hidden problem anymore.

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA)(External Link), drinking problems have historically gone unnoticed in older adults because they can be mistaken for the symptoms of aging, such as problems with balance. However, surveys suggest that older adults binge drink more often than other age groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18-34 years, binge drinkers aged 65 years and older report binge drinking more often—an average of five to six times a month.

"Alcohol misuse and abuse among older adults does not have to be a hidden problem anymore," said New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA ) Acting Director Greg Olsen. "Medicare now pays for alcohol screening and treatment, and NYSOFA has just added the CAGE Screen to our assessment tool so that we can better identify problems and refer older adults to the appropriate professionals."

Binge drinking is a double-edged sword for older adults because, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  1. As people grow older they metabolize alcohol more slowly;
  2. The amount of water in the body lessens with age;
  3. As age increases, tolerance for alcohol decreases.

Alcohol use is especially dangerous when combined with certain medications -- such as pain killers, sleep aids, and anti-depressants -- so older adults should investigate whether they can drink while taking any medicine.

In addition, older adults are particularly susceptible to the health risks of alcohol consumption. Alcohol may cause or worsen certain medical conditions such as osteoporosis, stroke, memory loss and high blood pressure.

An on-going collaboration between NYSOFA and the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) has improved the dissemination of crucial information to older adults and the professional networks that serve them.

"Older consumers of alcohol have been shown to have a high rate of success in overcoming addiction when properly directed to appropriate treatment services," said Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez of OASAS. "Therefore we encourage older adults, their friends and family, and the professionals serving them to contact our OASAS statewide HOPEline if they have concerns that may require a treatment response or information regarding alcohol abuse."

The HOPEline, which can be reached at 1-877-8-HOPENY (or 1-877-846-7369), is a confidential hotline staffed by masters level-clinicians. The HOPEline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide information about drugs, alcohol and problem gambling, and referrals to addiction services.

For additional recommendations on avoiding the risky use of alcohol, visit the CDC's Alcohol Awareness Month web page.(External Link)