A national 2008 survey found that about 40 percent of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol. 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

Drinking Guidelines for Adults

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women of legal drinking age and up to 2 drinks per day for men of legal drinking age.  Certain older adults, however, should avoid 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 certain medical conditions
  • Are recovering from alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount that they drink

According to the Dietary Guidelines, adults who do not drink alcohol should not start drinking for any reason.  Also, the Dietary Guidelines state that adults who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid alcohol completely.