Alcohol Tolerance Changes with Age

The holiday season, with friends and families gathering to celebrate, usually involves a little more “cheer” than other times of the year.  But alcohol consumption can affect the older adult differently than it once did.  It’s important to understand all the benefits, as well as unpleasant or even dangerous side effects, drinking can have for seniors. 

Older adults may process alcohol differently with age and as a result, tolerance can decline which means a couple of glasses of bubbly can quickly sneak up on seniors.  Reaction times and motor skills which may be affected by age can be impaired further by alcohol consumption.  Drinking can also affect memory and cognitive processing and worsen forgetfulness.  Balance can also be compromised when older adults drink alcohol.  Seniors who take medications should always check with their doctor or pharmacist about how the drugs interact with alcohol.

It’s not all bad news though, a moderate amount of alcohol may have health benefits for older adults including cardio-protective effects.  It is recommended that healthy adults over the age of 65 limit their alcohol consumption to one glass a day for women and no more than two each day for men.  Drinking more alcohol increases the risk for chronic illness as well as the risk for having a fall resulting in injuries such as a fracture.   Falls are the leading cause of injury and hospitalization among older adults and often mark the beginning of a loss of independence.

Too much alcohol has an effect on your appearance over time as well.  Because drinking dehydrates the skin, chronic alcohol use can result in premature aging.  Heavy drinking over time can also cause puffiness, red cheeks from broken capillaries and dryness.  Liver disease will start to cause jaundice, which can be noticed by a yellowing of the whites of the eyes.

Although many people believe an alcoholic drink may help you sleep at night, it can also cause wakefulness in the middle of the night as your body processes the alcohol.  Drinking can worsen insomnia and because it is a diuretic, may cause you to urinate more, resulting in dehydration if seniors do not drink enough water.

Tips for the holidays?

Enjoy a glass of wine or champagne with family and loved ones to celebrate, but limit it to one or two drinks per day and remember to stay hydrated.  Switch to sparking flavored water or juice after an alcoholic drink.   Healthy adults over the age of 65 should drink no more than 7 alcoholic drinks in one week or in excess of three drinks on any single day.  Tolerance and drug interactions are unique to each individual, be sure to talk with your doctor about what is appropriate for you.

Learn more about alcohol consumption and aging by following this link to the National Institute on Aging.