• Alcohol abuse is a common and under-recognized problem among older adults. 
  • One-third of older adults experiencing alcoholism developed that problem in later life. 
  • Some older adults use alcohol as a method of coping with pain or discomfort.
  • Effects of alcohol may increase in older adults because of pharmacologic changes associated with aging. 
  • As we age, we process alcohol differently.
  • Elder-specific alcohol treatment programs may improve outcomes in some older adults. 
  • Mild problem drinking may benefit from brief, targeted counseling by their family physician. 
  • Geriatric patients with alcohol abuse or use may present with cognitive decline or self-care challenges. 
  • Following detoxification, the older adult can receive further treatment from inpatient programs, day treatment programs, outpatient therapy, or community-based groups.
  • Negative social support can lead to binge drinking in older adults, while positive social support and neighborhood connections are protective factors for binge drinking, especially for women.


Role of family members in the care of older adults with alcoholism:

  • Seek medical intervention for a decline in cognition or self-care. 
  • Corroborate information on recent and lifetime drinking concerns. 
  • Provide support during detoxification and treatment. 
  • Assist in the coordination of community services.
  • Set clear boundaries, expectations, and be consistent.
  • Consider attending an Al-Anon meeting for those worried about someone with a drinking problem. https://al-anon.org

For additional information on this topic, go to Emotional Distance and Primary Care Physician interviews on this website.


Blow, F.C., Walton, M.A., Chermack, S.T., Mudd, S.A., & Brower, K.J. (2000). Older adult treatment outcome following elder-specific inpatient alcoholism treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Volume 19 (1): 67-75.

Gilson, K.M., Bryant, C., Judd, F. (2014). The hidden harms of using alcohol for pain relief in older adults. International Psychogeriatrics. Volume 26(11): 1929-1930

Rigler, S.K. (2000). Alcoholism in the Elderly. American Family Physician. MAR 15; 61 (6): 1710-1716. 

Villalonga-Olives, E., Almansa, J., Shaya, F., & Kawachi, I. (2020). Perceived social capital and binge drinking in older adults: The health and retirement study, US data from 2006-2014. Elsevier. Volume 214: 1-8.

Alcohol Abuse Amongst The Elderly: A Complete Guide

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