Psychiatric Disorder Risk Factor for Alcohol Abuse

Older adults are less likely to receive psychiatric treatment due to stigmas surrounding mental illness, and yet among the risk factors for alcohol and non-medical use of pharmaceuticals, psychiatric disorders play a role alongside physiological factors, gender, family history, social factors, and chronic medical illness.  A recent study of older adults who visited the emergency room indicates an increase in the prevalence of alcohol and cannabis use disorders as well as cocaine use among elderly patients. 

According to a recent Helio Psychiatry report, substance use is increasing among older adults; a proportion of the population that also is experiencing growing psychiatric disorders.  According to 2012 data for patients over the age of 65 from the Treatment Episode Data Set study, a significant number of hospitalizations of seniors into substance abuse treatment programs led to medical problems and death.  Alcohol use disorder is expected to increase in the growing geriatric population.  

Study data shows that although 60 percent of older adults abstain from drinking, 20 percent engage in high-risk drinking.  Heavy drinking or “at-risk” drinking exceeds 4 drinks per day for men and more than 3 standard drinks on any one day for women or more than 14 standard drinks per week.  Eighteen percent of seniors are considered moderate drinkers and 2 percent are alcohol dependent. 

Older adults with alcohol and other substance abuse problems rarely seek help in a psychiatric setting; 87 percent are diagnosed by a primary care provider.  y regularly screening older patients for alcohol abuse by asking specific questions about how often and how much seniors drink, more early interventions can be established.  When seniors arrive at the emergency room, the symptoms of substance abuse may be mistaken for normal signs of aging.  Prevention with assessment at primary care facilities can improve outcomes for seniors and with treatment, help older adults avoid health complications and mortality. 

Learn more about alcohol abuse among the elderly by following this link to the National Council for Aging Care.