Part 2 of the Alcohol Addiction series
Excessive alcohol dependency is a growing problem amongst our elder population. This could be due to many reasons such as boredom in retirement, financial problems, pain management and other health concerns, loneliness, or grief.
Elderly people are more sensitive than younger people to the effects of alcohol because of their slower metabolism. Another problem is that as our bodies age we lose lean muscle mass causing a higher concentration of alcohol to remain in the bloodstream. Combined with other physical changes in the body due to age, older adults who drink alcohol are more susceptible to falls, bone fractures, and other unintentional injuries. In addition, heavy drinking can lead to several chronic health conditions like diabetes and osteoporosis, drastically reducing an elder person’s quality of life.
Alcohol makes the body less sensitive to insulin, one of the primary causes of Type 2 diabetes. It also prevents the body from breaking down glucose, resulting in high blood sugar levels. In addition, just the calories in alcohol can put your loved one at risk of obesity, which can increase their chances of getting Type 3 diabetes.
If a senior is diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, they will be asked to minimize or even completely give up drinking, which might be very difficult if they’re struggling with alcohol addiction.
Prolonged alcohol abuse can stop the liver from functioning as it should and lead to several liver diseases such as fatty liver, liver cirrhosis, alcoholic steatohepatitis (ASH) and liver cancer. Depending on the severity of the condition, abstaining from alcohol can help reverse the damage to your liver.
Chronic drinking can also damage the heart and adversely affect the cardiovascular system, resulting in diseases like:
- Cardiac hypertrophy (enlarged heart)
- Cardiac fibrosis
- Alcoholic cardiomyopathy
- Tachycardia (irregular heartbeat)
While some of these conditions can have lifelong effects, others can be reversed by substantially reducing the level of alcohol consumption or giving up drinking altogether.
Excessive alcohol consumption not only negatively affects bone health but also disrupts the normal functioning of the endocrine system. This results in calcium imbalance and decreased vitamin D and estrogen levels, all of which can cause osteoporosis and other bone-density-related disorders. The low bone mass can, in turn, make your bones more brittle, resulting in more falls and accidents, frequent hospital visits and extended hospital stays as the bones take more and more time to heal with every fall.
Due to their increased alcohol sensitivity, older adults may experience blackouts and spotty memory faster than they used to when they were younger. Long-term alcohol abuse can have debilitating effects on their motor and cognitive functions and result in memory and psychosis disorders like Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Symptoms of WE include confusion, eye paralysis, and problems with muscle coordination. Almost 90% of people with WE also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, a more chronic condition that impacts both memory and motor functions.
If your loved one takes certain prescriptions, over-the-counter and even some herbal medications, they might need to be more careful about their drinking. Alcohol can have an adverse reaction when mixed with medicines, even becoming fatal in some cases. You need to talk to your parents’ doctors about their medications to clarify which ones are safe to consume with alcohol.