For Older People

Alcohol & You
Rethinking your drinking in later life

All you need to know

About a third of older people with drinking problems develop them for the first time in later life. Bereavement, physical ill-health, difficulty getting around and social isolation can lead to boredom and depression. Physical illness may be painful and it can be tempting to use alcohol to make these difficulties more bearable. It may then become part of your daily routine. There may be fewer reasons to give up or reduce your drinking than for a younger person due fewer responsibilities and no pressure to go to work each day.

What are the risks of drinking too much?

Alcohol can damage nearly every part of the body:

  • the stomach lining - ulcers or bleeding
  • the liver - cirrhosis of the liver
  • heart muscle - heart failure produces a build-up of fluid in the lungs which makes you breathless
  • cancer of the mouth, stomach and liver
  • malnutrition - alcohol has lots of calories for energy but none of the protein, fats or vitamins that you need to keep well
  • sense of balance - falls and accidents (even with 'low risk' drinking)
  • blackouts or fits
  • stroke
  • poor sleep - daytime tiredness

Not everyone who drinks too much will develop health problems but the more you drink the more likely you are to develop such problems.

Alcohol can interact with other medications such as painkillers and sleeping tablets. It can also reduce the effect of other prescription drugs. You should always check with your doctor about whether or not it is safe for you to drink if you have a particular health problem and are taking medication.

How can alcohol affect my emotional health?

Drinking too much alcohol can cause:

  • Anxiety: This may be because you start to feel anxious as the alcohol wears off like a mild withdrawal symptom. You may have another drink to feel better but as the effect of that wears off you start feeling anxious again.
  • Depression: You feel less hungry, have difficulty sleeping and get tired more easily. You start to feel that you have lost interest in things you used to enjoy, are slower to take things in when reading or watching television and feel less positive about the future or even feel that life is not worth living.
  • Confusion: If you have been drinking but not eating, the lack of thiamine, an important vitamin, can make you confused and unsteady on your feet. If this is not treated you can get permanent damage to your short-term memory.

If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s drinking in later life then please contact Ayrshire Council on Alcohol on 01292 281238 for confidential information, counselling support and advice.