Alcohol and Older Adults
Many older adults enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a beer while watching the game
on TV. Having a drink now and then is fine — as long as you don’t overdo it. As an
older adult, alcohol may affect you differently than it does younger adults.
Alcohol and aging
As you age, you become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects. After age 65, your lean
body mass and water content decrease. In addition, your metabolism slows down. Alcohol
stays in your system longer so the amount of alcohol in your blood is higher than
it would have been when you were younger.
Older adults also are more likely to have hearing and vision problems and slower reaction
times. This puts them at higher risk for falls, fractures, and automobile accidents
tied to drinking.
Some medical conditions in people older than age 65, and the medicines used to treat
them, can worsen with alcohol's effects. These include diabetes, high blood pressure,
and ulcers. Heavy alcohol use can lead to other health problems:
Alcohol is also linked to mental health problems like depression and suicide in older
Medicines taken by older adults are more likely to have serious interactions with
alcohol and drugs, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
(NIAAA). Many prescribed and over-the-counter medicines and herbal products can interact
negatively with alcohol. Medicines and alcohol can interact even if they’re not taken
at the same time. That's because the drug may still be in your blood when you have
What’s a safe amount?
The NIAAA recommends that people older than age 65 who are healthy and do not take
any medicines, have no more than 7 drinks a week, an average of 1 standard drink each
day and no more than 3 drinks on any 1 day. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, ale, or
wine cooler; 8 ounces of malt liquor; 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled
How to cut down
If you want to limit your drinking or your healthcare provider suggests it, try these
steps from the National Institutes of Health:
1. Write down your reasons for cutting back. These might include wanting to improve
your health or sleep better. Other reasons may be to improve relationships and to
2. Track your drinking habits for at least 1 week. Write down when and how much you
drink every day.
3. Set a drinking goal. You may decide to cut down to 1 drink a day or not to drink
at all. Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it where you will see it every