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Alcohol's Effects on Health

Research-based information on drinking and its impact.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Older Adults

The size of the older adult population is increasing rapidly. Alcohol use among older adults is also increasing. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that approximately 20 percent of adults aged 60-64 and around 10 percent over age 65 report current binge drinking. Older adults can experience a variety of problems from drinking alcohol, especially those who:

  • Take certain medications
  • Have health problems
  • Drink heavily

There are special considerations facing older adults who drink, including:

Increased Sensitivity to Alcohol
Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

Increased Health Problems
Certain health problems are common in older adults. Heavy drinking can make these problems worse, including:

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

Bad Interactions with Medications
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Medications that can interact badly with alcohol include:

  • Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen
  • Cold and allergy medicine
  • Cough syrup
  • Sleeping pills
  • Pain medication
  • Anxiety or depression medicine

Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption
Developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the dietary guidelines provide recommendations on what the average American should eat and drink to promote health and help prevent chronic disease. To help older adults minimize risks associated with drinking, the dietary guidelines state that older adults can choose not to drink or limit intakes to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed.

Certain older adults should avoid drinking alcohol completely, including those who:

  • Plan to drive or operate machinery, or participate in activities that require skill, coordination, and alertness
  • Take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Have a medical condition that can be worsened by alcohol
  • Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount they drink


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