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alcohol treatment for older adultsAccording to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use among older adults has increased over the past two decades. Nearly 20% of adults aged 60-64 report current binge drinking and more than 11% of people over the age of 65 report binge drinking, as well.[1] Even though these individuals may be used to drinking all of their lives, there are special considerations facing seniors who abuse alcohol.

Alcoholism in older adults comes with an increased risk of accidents, health problems, and an overall decline in well-being. Older adults who seek treatment for alcoholism require comprehensive medical and psychiatric services to successfully recover and get their health back in good condition.

There are several ways alcohol treatment programs in Massachusetts aim to prevent and treat the various adverse health effects of alcohol abuse on older adults.

How Alcoholism Affects the Health of Older Adults

In order to understand the treatment needs of elderly individuals struggling with alcoholism, it’s important to acknowledge the various ways alcohol abuse affects the health of older adults.

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol

Getting older can reduce the body’s tolerance for alcohol. This means older adults feel the effects of alcohol more quickly and more intensely than they did when they were younger. Unfortunately, being more sensitive to alcohol isn’t always a good thing. It causes elderly adults to be at an increased risk for alcoholism and adverse health effects.

Negative Interactions With Medication

In general, the older a person gets, the more medications they start taking. Pharmacists must pay close attention to making sure there are no potential drug interactions between medications. However, alcohol interacts negatively with many prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as:

  • Acetaminophen and aspirin
  • Cold and allergy medicine
  • Cough syrup
  • Sleeping pills
  • Opioid pain medications
  • Anxiety or depression medication
  • Laxatives

Increased Risk of Falls, Hip Fractures, and Other Injuries

With an increased sensitivity to alcohol, drinking even small amounts can put elderly adults in dangerous situations. Up to 60% of falls involve alcohol, and in older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance and coordination problems, increasing the risk of falls, hip fractures, and other injuries.[2]

It’s also important to note that older people have thinner bones than younger people, so their bones can break or fracture more easily. According to the National Institute on Aging, the rate of hip fractures among the elderly increases with alcohol use.[2]

Rapid Decline in Overall Health

Heavy drinking and alcoholism can lead to a number of severe health conditions. Certain health problems that are common among the elderly can be exacerbated by alcohol abuse. This can lead to a rapid decline in a person’s overall health. A few conditions that can be worsened by elderly alcoholism include:[1]

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Memory problems and dementia
  • Mood disorders

Addressing the Health of Older Adults During Alcohol Rehab

Effective treatment tends to the physical, mental, and emotional needs of each patient. As a result, alcohol treatment centers in Massachusetts take several critical steps to address the health needs of older adults in recovery.

The following services can help prevent declining health and treat current health problems, allowing older adults to become revitalized in their recovery.

Medically-Supervised Detox

Alcohol treatment must begin with medical detox. Alcohol withdrawal can produce severe, life-threatening symptoms, which can be more pronounced in older individuals. Studies show that withdrawal symptom severity, delirium, and seizures all increase with advancing age.[3]

Patients will require around-the-clock monitoring and a benzodiazepine taper to help prevent adverse side effects. Outpatient alcohol detox is typically not recommended, especially for older adults.

Medication Management

Throughout treatment, elderly patients should work closely with their doctor to manage their medications. It’s important that all medications are evaluated for safety and potential interactions. Some patients may qualify for alcohol treatment medications used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Ensuring proper dosing and medication adherence can improve treatment outcomes.

Coordination of Care Services

It is vital that alcohol treatment for older adults involves a coordination of care. Alcohol rehab providers should work in conjunction with the patient’s primary care physician, any specialists he or she has, and in-home nurses (if applicable). Since older adults typically have specific health needs, it’s important that all of their health providers work together in collaboration to provide adequate care. This can also help prepare the patient’s health providers for his or her release from treatment, which can prevent alcohol relapse in the future.

A Holistic Approach for Older Adults

While the physical health of older adults is important during alcohol rehab, it’s also important to consider their emotional, mental, and spiritual health, as well. This is why alcohol treatment centers in Massachusetts use a holistic approach that treats the mind, body, and spirit to pave the way for a lasting recovery.

In addition to medical services, alcohol treatment for older adults consists of behavioral therapy, individual counseling, peer support groups, and lifestyle changes.

Find Alcohol Rehab for Older Adults Today

If you or a loved one is seeking an alcohol treatment program that tends to the needs of older adults, our team at Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment can help. Call now to begin your recovery journey.


  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/older-adults
  2. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/facts-about-aging-and-alcohol
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10408740/
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