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Behind Closed Doors

elderly man looking worried


Alcohol and drug dependency in the elderly.

‘The NHS faces a ticking time bomb of serious health issues due to the heavy drinking and drug misuse of the baby boomer generation’

Do you or do you know of an older person that may have a drink or drug problem?

  • Ignores medication labels advising not to drink alcohol whilst taking?
  • Suffer with memory loss and confusion as a result of alcohol or drug misuse?
  • Lost interest in things they once enjoyed?
  • Change in personal care and hygiene?
  • Drinks religiously before or after meals or early morning drinking?


  • Six to seven per cent of elderly hospital admissions are as a result of alcohol or drug issues.
  • Older people are in hospital for heart attacks at the same rate of alcohol problems.
  • Tranquilisers are the most commonly misused prescription drug.
  • In a recent survey older people say they are drinking more now than they did in the past.

There can be lots of reasons as to why a senior may turn to alcohol or drugs misuse in later life. A partner may be ill or die leaving a void, together with grief and loneliness. Ageing does not come alone, it often brings with its own health problems, pain and, or lack of mobility, loss of sense of purpose, or maybe fewer opportunities to socialise. It may be tempting to use these substances as a crutch and then become hard to stop.

The problem is not always recognised in the same way as alcohol and drug abuse in the younger generation. It could be that stigma and shame hide the facts. Many family members often do not address the problem for the same reasons. Flippant comments can sometimes laugh off the fact that granny or grandad ‘may as well have a good time, after all they may not be around much longer’

It is also possible that health professionals don’t recognise drink problems in the elderly as the effects can often be disguised as physical or mental health issues. There is certainly not a lot of  media coverage spent on this subject, unless it is to laugh at an older woman being charged for being drunk on a mobility scooter. Very little research has been done on the drinking habits of older people. If we do not look at these problems, health resources and the older generation could pay a hefty price in the long run.


  • As we age the body is not able to process overuse of alcohol and drugs as well as it might in our younger years.
  • Alcohol can add or reduce the effect of some medications e.g. Warfarin – this can increase the risk of developing a clot in the bloodstream. Add to the effect of some painkillers and sleeping pills.
  • The general physical effects can be debilitating with an increased risk of falls and poor decisions around nutrition and financial aspects.
  • The effect of such misuse can be a cause of depression and mood change.
  • Difficulty in sleeping.
  • Alcohol misuse can also be a cause of dementia and brain damage. Cancer of the mouth, stomach and liver.
  • Stroke

Not everyone will develop health issues, however, the more you drink the more likely this becomes.


If you think you have a problem please talk to your GP who will discuss in confidence the support and help available in your community. In addition there are also a number of organisations that offer free advise on how to tackle dependency. Click the link before for a great list of resources on addiction and dependency from the Mind charity.


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