Drinking Less But Feeling It More? As We Grow Older, the Effects of Alcohol Change

September 11, 2013

Older adults tend to have a higher percentage of alcohol in their blood than younger people after drinking the same amount of alcohol. That's because older people metabolize, or break down, alcohol more slowly, which allows it to stay in their bodies longer. Alcohol is also more concerntrated in the blood, since body water content generally falls with age. As a result, older adults can experience the effects of alcohol, such as slurred speech and lack of coordination, more readily than when they were younger.

Alcohol can also interact with a variety of health conditions and medications that may be more common among seniors. These conditions include diabetes, high blook pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, and memory problems. Drinking alcohol can keep certain medicines from working properly, and combined with other medicines, it can lead to side effects such as sleepiness, confusion, or lack of coordination, even if seniors drink alcohol hours after taking a pill. When it comes to taking medications, people of all ages should ask their healthcare provider or pharmacist whether it's safe to drink alcohol.

Just like other adults, seniors who want to drink alcohol should discuss the pros and cons, and safe amounts, with their doctor, considering potential for some heart health benefit with moderate amounts, but also the increase in risk of some cancers and the potential for increased age-related sensitivities and side effects.

According to the National Institutes of Health, healthy men and women over age 65 generally should not drink more than a total of seven standard drinks a week.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research