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Seniors and Alcohol: How Much Is Too Much?

Posted 6/24/2016 by UHBlog

Alcohol affects everyone differently, especially as you age. We can help you figure out what’s safe for you.

Seniors and Alcohol: How much is too much?

Did you know that nearly as many seniors are admitted to hospitals for alcohol-related conditions as admissions for heart attacks? Multiple studies reveal that problem drinking and alcohol abuse among people over 65 are increasing.

While the reasons can vary – from loneliness and boredom to partying friends and the inability to say no – it’s a dangerous habit for an older person to engage in, says internal medicine specialist Felix Nwaokafor, MD. That’s because many seniors are battling high blood pressure and chronic diseases, such as heart conditions and diabetes.

“Many older patients may not realize how dangerous their drinking can be,” he says. “Their medications can interact with alcohol, causing the chemicals in the medicine to become more potent or less effective. Also, by mixing medications and alcohol, there is a chance of injuring your organs, such as the liver or kidneys, or irritating the stomach.”

Another issue is that you grow more sensitive to alcohol as you age. Your body isn’t able to metabolize your drinks in the same way as when you were young and often, fewer drinks get you drunk faster. According to Dr. Nwaokafor, this makes you more likely to have accidents, such as falls, fractures and car crashes.

There are other health risks, too, that include developing:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • Certain diseases that affect the liver and/or heart, as well as certain cancers
  • Strokes

Sometimes, mixed messages – like the health benefits of drinking red wine – confuse older people, who aren’t sure about how many drinks to consume.

“That’s why we ask patients about their alcohol usage on the medical form they fill out,” he says. “The information is used to engage them further to talk about how much they’re drinking. Or sometimes my older patients, they’ll start the conversation with, ‘Hey doctor, I like to have two or three cocktails every evening. What do you say about this?’”

Generally, Dr. Nwaokafor recommends that you stay in the moderate range with alcohol consumption. For women, that means one drink per day and for men, it’s two drinks. If you’re taking medication, be careful when you drink.

“The general rule is to take your pill with water and not to consume alcoholic beverages until at least three hours later,” he says. “That’s the standard amount of time needed to move (the medication) out of the stomach into the bloodstream.”

Felix Nwaokafor, MD is an internal medicine specialist at University Hospitals Parma Medical Associates. You can request an appointment with Dr. Nwaokafor or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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