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Alcohol abuse treatment for seniors.

Updated on September 26, 2011

No reason is a good reason for abuse

Are seniors too old for rehab?

For any number of reasons, older adults and seniors are increasingly at risk for alcohol abuse and dependence…and as the baby boomers move into old age, the once very rare occurrence of senior drub abuse is becoming increasingly common.

Older adults and seniors may develop substance abuse problems as a coping mechanism to some of the trials and difficulties of aging, as a response to the death of a spouse, or in response to declining health and mobility; but drug or alcohol abuse in seniors is very problematic.

What are the risks of senior alcohol abuse?

As people age they lose the ability to effectively metabolize consumed alcohol, and they are far more affected by limited consumption. A few drinks in an older person can have serious effects, both intoxicating, and physically destructive.

Seniors lose the ability to regenerate cells damaged by alcohol, and their internal organs, systems and mind are more prone to the detrimental effects of chronic alcohol consumption.

They are more likely to experience cognitive impairments, liver and heart damage and a general lack of health and wellbeing. They are also increasingly susceptible to accompanying psychiatric conditions such as depression or anxiety.

The risks of intoxication also include a lack of coordination, the risks of a fall, and possibly the risks of broken bones or other injuries that may reduce mobility and lessen quality of life.

Because older adults tend to take more prescription medications, the risks for negative drug interactions increase, and with interactions comes a greater risk for acute and chronic damage, as well as overdose.

Why do seniors so rarely get help for alcohol abuse?

Although seniors represent an at-risk cohort for substance abuse, they are seriously under represented in treatment programs; for a number of reasons.

Seniors self report feeling shame and guilt for abuse behaviors, and will very rarely initiate treatment on their own. They are also less likely to get noticed for their problem drinking, less likely to have a DUI and less likely to have problems with work or the law; basically, they generally drink in the home, and in secret.

Family is also often reluctant to intervene. Too many otherwise concerned and caring family members do not intervene even when the reality of a problem is clear to all. Many people mistaken believe that they do a kindness by allowing seniors their "comfort" of intoxication. They may also feel embarrassment or may be unsure about treatment options at such a late stage in life.

The reality is by not intervening you rob them of a chance for a better life. You condemn them to a shortened lifespan, to greater health problems, to greater cognitive impairments and to more psychiatric distress. Allowing someone to continue with alcohol or drug abuse is never a kindness.

What are the treatment options for senior alcohol abuse?

Older adults and seniors do remarkably well in treatment when they do get help. They are far more likely to finish initiated therapies, and maintain a full participation in aftercare, and have a better than average success rate of abstinence.

Any treatment that is effective for younger adults will work well for older adults, whether it is on an in or outpatient basis.

Seniors often feel more comfortable when receiving treatment and therapy amongst peer of a similar age, but research indicates that this is not necessary, and recovery rates are similar even when in general adult rehab or treatment.

Be kind to grandma or grandpa

You would never let a younger family member drink themselves to death without intervening, and you owe older relatives the same courtesy and compassion. It is never too late for help.

The costs of treatment

Families interested in learning more about the costs of treatment can read here.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have a 77 yr old mom addicted for decades. Now in treatment voluntarily. Or would have been 302 for suicidal tendencies again! First time she stayed without a fight. I guess there is help for our seniors. Prayers are said daily for her. This is her last chance. God willing

    • Rossimobis profile image

      Chibuzo Melvin Mobis 

      8 years ago from Nigeria

      It is never too late to help...Yes! but it all has to do with will power.

      Voted up!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I will link this hub to mine about a dispute with a grumpy old man alcoholic

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Sobriety, sober recovery from drug abuse and alcoholism, online sobriety meetings, chat and information on sobriety, detox and addiction live .

    • profile image

      Adult Child of Alcoholic 

      10 years ago

      Some goof points made. We don't owe seniors they made their choices but it IS good to help them.


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