Symptoms of Alcoholism in Seniors

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Symptoms of alcoholism among the elderly are often misdiagnosed, yet, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcoholism and drug abuse is one of the fastest growing health problems for people 60 and older. However, it is a problem that goes unrecognized and under-diagnosed, leading to thousands of senior citizens not receiving the help they need.

Reasons for Lack of Knowledge

There are many reasons that alcoholism in seniors is unrecognized and under-diagnosed. Many healthcare providers mistake the symptoms of alcoholism as those associated with dementia or depression, which are both common in adults over 60. In addition, seniors are more likely to hide their drinking from others. Families of seniors with an alcohol problem often ignore the symptoms, are in denial, or choose not to admit the problem exists due to shame, which is common among families of alcoholics of all ages.

Common Symptoms of Alcoholism

It can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism in the elderly, as some of the symptoms are very similar to forms of dementia and the natural process of aging. However, if a patient exhibits one or more of the following symptoms, it may be time to discuss the possibility of alcohol abuse with their doctor. Some common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained rises and falls in blood pressure
  • Complaints of insomnia and requests for sleeping medication
  • Frequent falls or unexplained injuries
  • Gradual increase of poor grooming, self-neglect or malnutrition
  • Unexplained responses to prescription medications
  • Changes in behavior, such as increased isolation, paranoia or argumentativeness
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Diagnosis of ulcers or inflammation of the stomach
  • Frequently slurred speech
  • Frequent drowsiness
  • Failure to keep appointments
  • Unusual changes in daily behavior with illogical explanations

An elderly person who exhibits the symptoms may not be suffering from alcoholism. However, the presence of these symptoms does indicate a need for medical intervention, as they could be signs of other illnesses that need treatment, such as Alzheimer’s disease or strokes.

What to Do

Treatment for alcoholism can still be effective in seniors. Getting help for an elderly person who is drinking too much is very similar to getting help for someone younger. If you suspect the symptoms of alcoholism in an elderly person, start with a discussion with their doctor, expressing concerns about their drinking. A senior’s doctor is probably the most likely to know what course of treatment would provide the best outcome. At some point, a discussion will have to take place with the elderly person, and treatment options explained. More than likely, the elderly person will argue that they do not have a drinking problem, but, just as with a younger alcoholic, treatment is critical. In extreme cases, a family may need to engage the assistance of an intervention specialist.

Alcoholism among the elderly is a growing problem, and one that is often undiagnosed. For those who suspect the symptoms of alcoholism in an elderly person, seek assistance from their doctor or a drug treatment organization as soon as possible. Remember that treatment can still be effective at any age.