Disease, dementia, problems getting around: These are things associated with aging.
But problem drinking? Isn’t that a problem of younger people?
No. As the National Institute on Aging warns, anyone at any age can have a problem with alcohol. Alarmingly, a new study from the University of Georgia at Athens (UGA) has found that older adults who are both chronically ill and depressed run a higher risk of problem drinking.
Depression may not be the only problem older ill people face
Researchers from UGA’s School of Social Work used data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationwide survey of older adults funded by the National Institutes of Health. They examined data on over 1,600 people aged 57 to 85 who actively drank alcohol. Of the drinkers who told interviewers that they had experienced bad outcomes due to their use of alcohol, 66 percent reported having multiple chronic health conditions (MCCs). Additionally, 28 percent of that group reported dealing with the symptoms of depression.
However, the older adults who had MCCs as well as depression had the highest incidence of problems from their drinking. “These findings suggest that effective training in screening and referral for mental health and alcohol use issues for health care providers of older adults may better serve the approximate 4 million older adults who currently experience problem drinking in the U.S.,” said study lead author Orion Mowbray, Ph.D., in a UGA press release.
Mowbray goes on to suggest treatment interventions, such as depression screenings, for older adults. “There is sufficient evidence that even brief interventions delivered in medical-related settings can have a positive influence on reducing problem drinking among most older adults,” said Mowbray.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition – and 50 percent have two or more.
What is problem drinking?
It’s very possible to have a drinking problem and not have alcoholism. People dependent on alcohol may find themselves unable to control or stop their drinking; problem drinkers may fall short of those symptoms, but still encounter negative outcomes from their drinking.
Binge drinking is the most common form of alcohol abuse in the United States, the CDC reports. For men, binge drinking involves consuming five or more drinks in a two-hour period; for women, it’s four drinks.
Binge drinking carries with it a number of risks, but for older people the chief problem is the increased risk of falls and other injuries. Also, binge drinking increases heart and digestive problems, makes diabetes harder to control – and if the drinker passes out, there’s a potential risk of choking from vomiting while unconscious.
Depression in older adults
The CDC reports that although older adults are at an increased risk for depression, the majority of older adults aren’t depressed. According to studies cited by the CDC, major depression in older people living in their communities varies from less than 1 percent to around 5 percent. However, that percentage rises to 11.5 in older adults who are hospitalized – and to nearly 14 percent of older adults who require health care at home.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) identifies several risk factors for depression in older adults, including:
- Being female – according to Harvard Medical School, women are around twice as likely to develop depression as men. Additionally, NIMH also identifies types of depression which only affect women.
- Being chronically ill
- Being disabled
- Being socially isolated or lonely
Other risk factors include a family history of depression, experiencing life events such as loss or divorce, and abusing alcohol and drugs.
Both conditions are treatable
Overwhelming as they may seem, depression and alcohol abuse are both treatable. Sovereign Health provides expert care for both conditions at locations throughout the U.S. We use proven, evidence-based methods such as talk therapy to ensure that our patients move beyond their challenges.
Older men in need of help can find specialized treatment at our center in Palm Desert, California, where we offer our Personal Recovery Integrating Men’s Experiences (PRIME) program. Aimed at meeting the specific needs of men over 40 in crisis, PRIME gives older patients the tools they need to move past addiction.
A healthier life can start today – call our 24/7 helpline.
About the Author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at email@example.com.
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