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Drinking and Healthy Aging: Know Your Limits

Alcohol use is common among seniors. Nearly half of older adults aged 65 and older report having consumed alcohol in the past year. They may have a drink at a social event or party, to enhance their mood, or as a means of coping with a difficult symptom such as insomnia. Some older adults even drink alcohol for perceived positive health effects.

Although drinking and alcohol problems are less common in older adults than younger people, alcohol use in older adulthood brings specific risks for seniors. As we age, changes to our body composition and ability to metabolize alcohol mean that alcohol affects older adults more profoundly when they drink. Some evidence even suggests that older drinkers are less aware of these effects, even as they are experiencing them. Unhealthy drinking can lead to other problems over time, such as increased risk of falls, dangerous medication interactions, increased risk of cancer, and, in more severe cases, liver disease and early mortality.

To avoid risk to your overall health, limit their alcohol use. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has created specific guidelines for those aged 65 and older. Those who do not take medication and are in good health should limit their total alcohol consumption to no more than seven drinks per week. Additionally, those 65+ should consume no more than three drinks on any given day. Those with certain medical conditions such as Major Depression, or those taking certain medications (e.g. pain medications) should consume less alcohol or abstain completely.

As we age, alcohol use can remain a part of a healthy lifestyle. Enjoying a drink with friends or family may contribute to healthy aging by fostering social connection and a sense of enjoyment. Nonetheless, unhealthy drinking can harm one’s health and well-being. Stay within NIAAA guidelines and avoid using alcohol as a means of dealing with problems such as insomnia, depression or pain.

For more information about older adults and alcohol use, check out the following resources from NIAAA in the United States and Drink Wise Age Well in the United Kingdom.

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About Paul Sacco, PhD MSW

Paul Sacco is an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Maryland-Baltimore. He conducts research on alcohol use among older adults.