Older Adult Alcohol Misuse
November 23, 2022

Alcohol Concerns in Older Adults: What to Watch For, How to Get Help

Alcohol Concerns in Older Adults: What to Watch For, How to Get Help

COVID-19 data across age groups have shown spikes in the misuse of alcohol. This is not surprising, given economic stress, loss of social networks, and fears of contracting the virus.

These and other causes of alcohol misuse are compounded for older adults by life changes as we get older. This includes retirement, loss of friends, or a decline in physical abilities that may make it harder for older adults to socialize or might result in them giving up driving. For these factors and others, older adults are at increased risk of alcohol misuse.

Additionally, generational differences in attitudes about substance misuse and abuse conditions can make it difficult for older adults to recognize excessive drinking while also impeding their willingness to seek help. Concerns are more likely to go undetected, especially for older adults who are no longer in workplaces where they would otherwise encounter colleagues and social contacts with greater regularity.   

Health care providers often overlook these problems as well and are unable to have a conversation with patients about the impact on their overall health and wellness, and ultimately, their independence.

There are special considerations facing older adults who drink.

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol

Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

Increased Health Problems

Certain health problems are common in older adults. Heavy drinking can make these problems worse, including:

  • Diabetes                                                       
  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure                 
  • Liver problems
  • Osteoporosis                                   
  • Memory problems
  • Mood disorders

Symptoms for Concern

  • Slurred speech
  • Unexplained injuries and bruises
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Poor hygiene
  • Less contact with friends and family
  • Health Disparities

Did you know?

If you are worried about the drinking of anyone in your family, including an older relative, take this easy screen.

And if you need assistance, call the 24/7 HOPEline operated by the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) at Call 1-877-8-HOPENY or text to 467369.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism                                                                        
National Institutes of Health
[email protected]

Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
800-487-4889 (TTY)
SAMSHA National Help Line: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
[email protected]

Alcoholics Anonymous