Alcohol abuse among the elderly:
Alcohol abuse and dependency are frequently believed to be problems of the young, but recent surveys are indicating otherwise. Research now indicates that about 5% of Americans over the age of 65 may have significant drinking problems to the degree that it may be defined as alcohol abuse. It is estimated that older men have a problem with drinking at the rate of four to one to women. Approximately a decade ago, a large community survey considering the prevalence of mental disorders in United States found that alcohol abuse was the third most commonly diagnosed mental illness (after dementia and anxiety disorders) in men over the age of 65. The survey found that alcohol abuse and dependence on either alcohol or other drugs were the most common psychiatric diagnoses of men in their 60’s. Also, other studies have found that alcohol may play a role in approximately one third of the suicides in elderly people.
Frequently people do not understand exactly what the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol dependency” really refer to. Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of alcohol use that is demonstrated to have at least one of the following characteristics: Continued use of alcohol despite social, occupational, psychological, or physical problems that are caused or worsened by its continued use, and recurrent use in situations which are physically hazardous, such as driving. These problems must have been present for at least a month or occurred repeatedly over a long period of time.
Alcohol dependency refers to any individual who meets at least three of the following characteristics:
•The taking of alcohol in large amounts over longer period of time then intended.
• A persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut back on consumption.
• A great deal of time spent in activities obtaining alcohol or recovering from its effects.
• Frequent intoxication or withdrawal effects when an individual is expected to fulfill major obligations or when alcohol use is actually physically hazardous.
• Giving up or reducing normal activities to use alcohol.
• Continuing the use of alcohol in spite of social, psychological or physical problems, or exacerbated by its use.
• Marked tolerance to the effects of alcohol.
• Withdrawal symptoms.
• Frequently taking alcohol to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms must have persisted for least a month or recurred repeatedly over long periods of time such as with alcohol abuse.
Some information from The American Geriatrics Society’s Complete Guide to Aging & Health by Mark E. Williams
Additional information by Paul Susic Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist (Geriatric Psychologist)