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drinking and older people

Alcohol Counselling for Older People

The effect of Alcohol in later life

Often it can be the combination of a variety of common problems that arise in later life. For example, we are more likely to suffer loss and bereavement, just at a time when we are less mobile, or suffer from physical health deterioration and are therefore less able to meet others. This can lead to loneliness and isolation. Loneliness is a killer and research has shown that this in itself can adversely impact a person’s physical and mental health. Many older people make life changes such as retiring, moving home, downsizing, or having to agree to a lifetime partner going into a Care or Nursing home. Our ability to cope with change can be more challenging when we are older. Sometimes drinking alcohol more often, or in greater quantities can be a tempting way to ‘cope’. However, this can lead to problems with a person’s health, both physical and mental and their general wellbeing can be adversely impacted. It can be helpful to have counselling to talk about the difficulties and to find more healthy ways of coping with the challenge of ageing.

Issues that carers face. 

It can be very difficult to care for someone. It can be emotionally draining, and there may be financial implications if the ‘cared for’ person is financially dependent on the carer, or the carer may not be able to work as many hours. Having a social life may be curtailed and can lead to isolation and loneliness. Doing everyday things like shopping or housework can become very difficult. As a result, many carers face additional stress, anxiety and maybe depressed. This may make a carer turn to substances to alleviate these problems. However, if the level of drinking or substance misuse reaches unhealthy levels, it may be time to seek help and support to find healthier ways of dealing with being a carer.


I have a good understanding of the difficulties Carers face and this experience together with my specialist training in substance misuse helps me to work successfully with clients who want to address their use of drugs or alcohol.

Issues that older people often experience

Issues that older people often experience

  • Isolation- through losing friends and family, through death or distance. low self-esteem

  • lack of confidence, along with losing the ability to do the things they used to, perhaps loss of independence

  • increased anxiety is often a problem

  • they may be a carer

  • depression is common

  • physical health deteriorates

  • quality of sleep reduces

  • sometimes mobility can be a problem, and risk of falls and fractures

  • loss of memory

  • other types of mental health disorders can be present

  • often multiple issues can be present

  • older people often become invisible and can feel disempowered

  • if they are not working, they can feel that they don’t feel valued or lose their identity

  • Transition - often faced with uncertainty and/or change as to their living situation, finances, how much care they may need, adjustments in their relationship/s

  • Having to face ageing and mortality

  • Despite anti ageist law, some people still experience ageism

  • All of the above can be worse if there are substance misuse issues


Dealing with the above issues can lead to an older person turning to alcohol as a way of coping with these changes. Sometimes, the resulting problem with alcohol can often be hidden, or secret. Unfortunately, older people cope less well with breaking down alcohol in the blood. Because of this, their speech, judgement and coordination may be impacted more rapidly. Perhaps at an already increased risk of falls, older people are at a greater danger of accidents due to falls, when under the influence of alcohol. If the older person is still in work, a workplace accident may be more likely. Or if driving, a road traffic accident is more likely to occur. Often, older people will be on multiple medications and alcohol can interfere with this, negating the benefits, or increasing the potency, for example.


One of the most harmful aspects of alcohol abuse is the impact it has on relationships. Alcohol is a depressant and can lower moods still further, or cause some people to become angry, or frustrated more easily. Depending on the levels of alcohol, anxiety can increase in the cycle of not sleeping, drinking or feeling motivated to do things. In more extreme cases, physical violence may become part of an older person’s behaviour as a result of drinking too much.


For a spouse, partner, loved one or significant family member, watching someone harm themselves in this way, can be very distressing to witness. Sometimes the significant other becomes an ‘enabler’ and supports the person in their habit, in order not to ‘rock the boat’, or in an attempt to help maintain the status quo. Often drinking too much becomes a shared activity, and sometimes without noticing, changes to drinking behaviours develop slowly over time and can be more difficult to address once entrenched.


Drinking levels:


How much is it safe to drink?

Source: Drinkware

The more you drink, the more likely it is that alcohol will harm your health; BUT there are “sensible” levels of drinking which, for most people, are unlikely to be harmful. These are roughly:

  • 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women

Daily drinking levels: Older men, in particular, are drinking more on their heaviest drinking day and the proportion drinking more than 8 units increased for men in the age range 45 to 64 (up to 2015). Women reported drinking 6 units on their heaviest drinking day in this age group. Higher earners tend to drink more than those on lower income.


Weekly levels:

Those aged 55-64 were most likely to be drinking at higher or increasing risk levels in terms of their weekly alcohol consumption. Younger and older adults were the most likely to be non-drinkers

Consequences of Alcohol abuse in older people

Source: Alcohol Change


Alcohol misuse can be directly related to deaths from certain types of disease. Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including:

  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast

  • Heart disease, high blood pressure, risk of stroke

  • Cirrhosis of the liver (Liver disease is one of the few major causes of premature mortality that is increasing)

  • Depression


It can also create sleeping problems, anxiety, affect vitamin intake by filling the stomach with liquid rather than nutritious food. Memory problems can become evident or worsen.


Risk of death and /or hospitalisation as a result of drinking

In England and Wales, 63% of all alcohol-related deaths in 2012 were caused by alcoholic liver disease.

The number of older people between the ages of 60 and 74 admitted to hospitals in England with mental and behavioural disorders associated with alcohol use has risen by over 150% in the past ten years.


There were 339 thousand estimated admissions related to alcohol consumption in 2015/16. This is 3 per cent higher than 2014/15 and 22 per cent higher than 2005/06.

Source:     NHS UK  

How much is it safe to drink?
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