Historically a lot of attention has been given by the media, educators and public awareness campaigns to issues of drinking and drug misuse in the ‘younger’ generation. However, recent figures have indicated that the direction of this attention may actually need to be turned towards the older generation and our seniors.
According to two significant studies there is cause for concern and a need for greater transparency around alcohol use in the over 50s age range.
The first study by Turning Point demonstrated that middle aged and older men are making up an alarming proportion of alcohol-related ambulance attendance figures. The study showed men aged 50-59 have had the highest rates of alcohol related ambulance attendances since 2012 (in Victoria) and that these figures are trending upwards in the 60+ range too.
The study also clearly highlights that excessive alcohol consumption and misuse are not reserved for the younger ‘partying’ generation on a Saturday night. In fact, the research showed that, contrary to what we might expect, ambulance attendances related to alcohol in men are higher in the 40+ range than in the 15-39 range.
Another statistic that might surprise you comes from The National Drug Strategy Household survey report (2013). The report revealed that people over 70 years of age are the largest age group most likely to drink daily.
In addition, 2015 South Pacific Private hospital admission figures show that nearly a quarter of all admissions in the 50+ age range presented with an alcohol related concern.
These statistics cause us to pose the question, why are seniors more susceptible to alcohol misuse and are there mitigating factors influencing this pattern?
There are two main ways that alcohol addiction manifests typically:
1. Regular or habitual drinking: Characterised by drinking alcohol on a daily or near daily basis accompanied by the signs and symptoms below.
2. Binge drinking or “heavy episodic drinking”: Patterns of drinking behaviour, showing episodes of heavy alcohol use often with periods of alcohol free days or weeks between
Sometimes drinking correlates to a major life change; the death of a friend or loved one, children moving away, moving to a new home, failing health, isolation or loneliness. These kinds of changes can lead to increased anxiety, or even depression. Medical, behavioural, social and environmental factors can all be evident and important to consider when addressing the issue.
However, it is perhaps easier for family members to mistake the signs of alcoholism for signs of ageing without making the connection e.g. shaking hands, or poorer balance. How the body handles alcohol changes with age and is a natural progression. A person may have the same drinking habits, but the changes in their body mean the symptoms are more profound or more impactful on their overall health.
Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at a greater risk of falling or experiencing an unintentional injury as a result of their drinking.
What are the signs of alcohol addiction?
If you are concerned that you or someone you love may be struggling with a problem here are some signs that you can look out for.
• Increasing tolerance – needing to drink increasing amounts of alcohol to feel the same effects.
• Impaired control – lacking the ability to limit the amount that you drink even when you have made a conscious decision to restrict your alcohol intake.
• Physical dependence – experiencing intense cravings for alcohol, and withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakes, and anxiety when you stop drinking.
• Denial – refusing to face the reality of the problematic impact that the continuing use of alcohol is having on your life.
Older adults can gain enormous benefit from treatment. There are often direct health benefits, improved cognition, more independent living, more and better social connectedness, and the potential for a new lease of life.
If your drinking is harming yourself or others, it may be time to contact one of the many services that can help. You could speak to your GP, local health service, a treatment centre or call a helpline.