Drinking and Driving
Adults of all ages who drink and drive are at higher risk of traffic accidents and related problems than those who do not drink. Drinking slows reaction times and coordination and interferes with eye movement and information processing. People who drink even a moderate amount can have traffic accidents, possibly resulting in injury or death to themselves and others. Even without alcohol, the risk of crashes goes up starting at age 55. Also, older drivers tend to be more seriously hurt in crashes than younger drivers. Alcohol adds to these age-related risks.
In all states, it is against the law for people to drive if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above .08. Blood alcohol concentration measures the percentage of ethanol—the chemical name for alcohol—in a person’s blood. The higher the BAC, the more impaired a person is. The amount of alcohol consumed, gender, weight, and body fat all affect a person’s BAC. A BAC below the legal limit can still impair driving skills. Some people are impaired even when they don’t think they are. If you plan to drive, don’t drink. If you drink, let someone else who has not been drinking do the driving.
Drinking and Relationships
Alcohol misuse and abuse can strain relationships with family members, friends, and others. At the extreme, heavy drinking can contribute to domestic violence and child abuse or neglect. Alcohol use is often involved when people become violent as well as when they are violently attacked. If you feel that alcohol is endangering you or someone else, call 911 or get other help right away.
Signs of Problem Drinking
It’s not always obvious that someone drinks too much. For older adults, clues to a possible alcohol use disorder include memory loss, depression, anxiety, poor appetite, unexplained bruises, falls, sleeping problems, and inattention to cleanliness or appearance. Answering “yes” to at least one of the following questions is also a sign of a possible drinking problem.
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, talk with your health care provider. Also seek help if you feel you are having drinking-related problems with your health, relationships, or work.
Reasons Older Adults May Drink
Older adults drink for different reasons than do younger adults. Some have been drinking for many years and are physically dependent on alcohol. Others start drinking later in life because of health problems, boredom after retirement, or loneliness after the death of a spouse or close friend. This is called “late-onset drinking.” Feeling tense or depressed can also trigger drinking.
People Can Be Treated Successfully
Most people with alcohol problems can be treated successfully. People with an alcohol use disorder and those who misuse alcohol and cannot stay within healthy drinking limits should stop drinking altogether. Others can cut back until their drinking is under control. Changing drinking habits isn’t easy. Often it takes more than one try to succeed. But people don’t have to “go it alone.” There are plenty of sources of help.
(Watch the video to learn more about getting help for alcohol use disorder (AUD). To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)
Treatment for Alcohol Problems
A doctor can help decide the best treatment for people with alcohol problems. Many people need more than one kind of treatment. Medicines can help people with an alcohol use disorder quit drinking. Meeting with a therapist or substance-abuse counselor or with a support group may also help. Support from family and friends is important, too. A doctor can help a person decide on the best treatment. Making a change sooner rather than later makes treatment more likely to succeed.
Older people with alcohol problems respond to treatment as well as younger people. Some studies suggest that older adults do better when they are treated with other people the same age instead of mixed in with younger adults. Some communities have treatment programs and support groups specifically for older adults.