Alcohol and drugs

Most older people have good health and can enjoy alcohol without problems. However, alcohol can affect people differently as they grow older because of changes in the way the body processes alcohol and sometimes this can lead to difficulties. They may write falls, loss of memory, confusion, and shaking limbs off as 'old age', but they may in fact be signs of a drinking problem.

Perhaps the greatest danger comes from mixing alcohol with medicines. In many cases, alcohol makes the effect of medicines stronger, or causes side effects. Unless the doctor or pharmacist has said it is safe, alcohol and medicines should not be mixed.

Drinking in a safer way in older age requires the person to be aware of the effect that alcohol is having on them and to reduce the amount of alcohol accordingly. For instance, the body's ability to signal thirst deteriorates as people age and, when combined with a diuretic like alcohol, the risk of dehydration is increased.

Older people who have been regular drinkers are likely to need to cut down their consumption by at least half. For some older people, particularly with health problems or those taking medicines, it may be best not to drink at all.

HPA - Health Promotion Agency has some very useful information on alcohol and older people. They have a booklet published in 2016 that provides information about:

  • How our bodies become less able to cope with alcohol as we age
  • how alcohol affects certain medicines and health conditions
  • how much alcohol is too much when you're older
  • what older people can do if they think they have a drinking problem
  • what family/whānau can do

Download the pdf here 

Websites of interest

Find your nearest Age Concern