Alcoholism & Seniors

According to a study, around a third of men and one-fifth of women between the ages of 65 and 74 are drinking more than the daily recommendation for that age group in the UK. [1]

In 2017, it was found that 14.7% of men and 7.6% of women aged 65 and over in the UK binged alcohol on their heaviest drinking day of the week [2].

Why do Seniors Fall into Alcoholism?

Alcohol addiction

It is easy to think that excessive drinking is something that only young people do or something associated with a mid-life crisis, but older people can also be victims of alcoholism. There are several reasons for this.

1. Loss and loneliness

As people get older, they gradually start to lose their closest friends and family members. Parents, siblings, cousins, friends, partners, neighbours – whether it be due to death, illness, or moving away, individuals become increasingly isolated as they grow up.

In some instances, this can spark depression. In order to abate these feelings of sadness, loneliness, and emptiness, alcohol can become a crutch, eventually leading to full-on dependency.

2. Empty nest syndrome

For a lot of adults, the home is a busy and lively place for most of their life. They have parents, siblings, and then children to keep them company and spend their time with.

As people get older, however, and children grow up and move out to have a family of their own, feelings of loneliness can develop. This is commonly referred to as Empty Nest syndrome.

This loneliness can prompt alcohol use as a numbing agent to distract individuals away from their empty homes and negative emotions.

3. Trauma

One of the most painful parts about growing older is losing a spouse or partner. In the later years of life, these loved ones can become the only social contact older individuals have, and so their death can be hugely impactful on wellbeing and worldview.

Pain, heartbreak, and depression are common in this situation, leaving individuals vulnerable to the temptation of alcohol which can be used to numb these horrible feelings.

4. Poor health

A fact of life that everyone must deal with is the gradual decline in health as we age. Muscles weaken, bones break, and diseases become more common.

In response to this, individuals can find themselves turning to alcohol for multiple reasons. They might use alcohol as a way to self-medicate for physical discomfort, or they might develop a more carefree attitude and start drinking because they are nearing death.

5. Something to do

Drinking alcohol is widely considered to be a fun activity. At all stages of life, friends meet to do it, and the same goes for those in their elderly years.

Due to increasing isolation, older people might try to socialise with new people their age. Events can often involve alcohol, and attending these events so frequently can gradually lead to dependency.

The Impact of Alcoholism on Older People

Alcohol has a huge impact on the body, but the consequences of drinking in excess for older people are even greater.

Some of the most dangerous include [3]:

  • Higher susceptibility to negative symptoms – A fact of ageing is that the body requires lower quantities of alcohol to feel its effects. This also means that it takes less alcohol for the negative impacts to arise, such as emotional lows and nausea.
  • Worsening of health – Many conditions can crop up as people age, with conditions like diabetes, heart problems, and loss of memory being common. Alcohol misuse can unfortunately make these problems worse.
  • Broken bones – High alcohol consumption means that older people are subjecting themselves more often to the general clumsiness and recklessness associated with being drunk. Bones are fragile and take longer to heal when older.
  • Mixing with medications – A lot of older people take medications for the increasing rate of health problems they experience. Alcohol can unfortunately mix badly with many of these, potentially having fatal consequences.

Signs of Alcoholism in Older People


As a result of the consequences outlined above, it is essential to be able to spot alcoholism in older people.

Some of the most common signs include:

  • Always being seen with an alcoholic drink
  • Drinking at unusual times of the day or in inappropriate settings
  • Frequently showing signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech or disorientation
  • Drinking alcohol alongside prescribed medications
  • Being dishonest about alcohol consumption
  • Becoming upset, anxious, or aggressive when access to alcohol is taken away
  • Hiding alcohol or trying to drink it without anyone noticing

Risk Factors for Alcoholism in Older People?

Even with the signs in mind, spotting alcoholism can still prove very difficult. What are easier to notice are the risk factors of alcoholism – things that tend to push older people towards excessive alcohol use.

Common risk factors include:

  • Increasing isolation – Those who consume a lot of alcohol become increasingly absent in their social circles. Is your older loved one missing family events? Do they avoid visitors?
  • Recent loss – Alcohol use can be triggered by grief, pain, and loneliness. If your older loved one has recently lost someone whom they depended on, they might be vulnerable to developing alcohol dependency.
  • Genetics and upbringing – Susceptibility to alcoholism is greatly influenced by an individual’s genetics and how they were raised. If an older loved one’s parents were addicts, or they were raised around alcohol users, they can be more vulnerable.

Getting the Right Help

If you identify traits of alcoholism in the behaviour of a grandparent, parent, or older friend, it is important to know how to ensure they get the help that they need. There are multiple options available for starting this journey.

Approach them

The first thing many might think to do is to try and talk to the individual about their alcohol use. The best approach for this is to be gentle and slow – accusing or blaming them for their behaviour is likely to cause them to reject your attempts to help.


If an individual refuses to accept that they have an addiction, or if approaching them alone seems daunting, an intervention can be held. These bring family and friends together to explain how alcoholism has become a problem and offer support for treatment.

Contact your GP

Alcoholism can appear at first like an unbeatable condition, but learning more can help tackle this. Reaching out to a GP or doctor to learn more about the condition and how it can be helped can go a long way in guiding how you handle the situation.

Reach out to rehabs

There are a variety of treatment options available for alcoholism in the UK. In order to find out which are most suitable for the situation your older loved one finds themselves in, it can help to research and get in touch with some local alcohol rehab centres.

Apply for council funding

If you do not have the funds to pay for alcohol rehab, getting in touch with your local council can open the door to applying for funding. These funds are made available for people who otherwise would not be able to afford to get the help they need.

Get Help Today

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Please contact our dedicated team at Rehab 4 Alcoholism for advice on 0800 111 4108.