Identifying and Preventing Alcohol Abuse in Canada’s Seniors

According to the NCADD, between 6 and 11 percent of elderly hospital admissions are due to alcohol or drug related problems.

It can be common for friends and family members to overlook – or completely miss – an aging loved one’s abuse of alcohol. For instance, if he or she has always included alcohol in his or her daily routine, recognizing increased (but gradual) frequency in drinking may be difficult. Similarly, seniors may turn to alcohol as a way to deal with physical or emotional pain, loneliness, or other forms of stress – secretly and without anybody ever knowing.

The Effects of Alcohol on Seniors

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol abuse among older adults is quickly becoming a serious health challenge. A leading factor in this is that some seniors may not understand that their bodies respond differently to alcohol than when they were younger. While it’s common knowledge that our bodies change with time, it may not be so obvious that our tolerance for alcohol can change, as well.

As we age, the amount of water within the body decreases (allowing for a higher blood alcohol concentration), but also, alcohol stays in the liver longer and is not metabolized nearly as quickly or efficiently. Thus, drinking what could be considered a small amount of alcohol – for those that are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s – may quickly impair a senior’s judgement and/or coordination, leading to falls or other serious injuries.

The immediate effects of alcohol are certainly a cause for concern, but the long-term consequences can be just as life-threatening. Excessive drinking, over time, can cause result in the following:

  • Liver damage
  • Various types of cancer
  • Immune system disorders
  • Exacerbation of existing health conditions (including high blood pressure and diabetes)
  • Brain damage

Additionally, mixing alcohol with medication, either taken for illness or chronic conditions, can also result in serious health issues and even death. This is especially alarming when you consider that nearly every adult over the age of 65 takes at least two forms of medication each day.

Identifying Alcohol Abuse in Seniors

Some of the typical warning signs of alcohol abuse, such as irritability, fatigue, and insomnia can be mistaken for other problems commonly found in seniors. This can make identification of alcohol abuse difficult not only for friends and family members, but also for medical professionals, especially if they are not given enough context or history. However, there are other key signs to look out for. They include the following:

  • A decreased interest in hobbies or leisure activities
  • Memory loss
  • Increased frequency in health complaints
  • Slurred speech, smell of alcohol, or general change of appearance
  • Diminished hygiene
  • Sudden change in eating habits

Addressing Alcoholism in Your Senior and Next Steps

If you or a family member suspect that a senior loved one is abusing alcohol, it’s important to discuss the matter with him or her in a calm, respectful way. Many seniors may not even be aware that they’re using alcohol in excess. As noted previously, they also may not understand the increased risk of drinking at an advanced age (especially with medication in the equation) – so it’s important to reinforce your concern with education about the effects of alcohol on older adults.

Communication and education are both key to helping a loved one, but if he or she needs help in overcoming alcohol dependency, there are other ways to get assistance. Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can be a great way for seniors to talk with others also struggling with alcohol abuse, while also receiving helpful strategies.

Comfort Keepers® Can Help Canada’s Seniors

If you no longer live near your aging loved one, it may be time to consider having Comfort Keepers® lend a helping hand. Our professional caregivers – who we call Comfort Keepers® – can provide companionship and interaction, helping relieve symptoms of depression. A caregiver can also notify family members of changes in your loved one’s behavior or physical characteristics. If you want to learn more about Comfort Keepers’ in-home care services, contact your local office today.


  • AgingCare. “Alcohol Use and Abuse Among Elderly Parents.” Web. 2017.
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. “Alcohol, Drug Dependence and Seniors.” Web. 207.
  • National Institutes of Health. “Alcohol Use in Older People.” Web. 2016.

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