Expert Elder Care Guidance

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Alcoholism and older adults



Should I be worried that my mom is becoming an alcoholic? 




If your mother is drinking alone or throughout the day, withdrawing from friends, or is focused on keeping a supply of alcohol readily available, then you should be worried your mother has a problem with alcohol. You should be particularly vigilant if she is grieving over the death of a loved one or has suffered another major loss in her life because she could be trapped in the vicious cycle of taking a drink to “drown her sorrows.”


Alcohol addiction is more complicated for older people because their aging bodies are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Studies show that a 60-year-old will have a 20 percent higher blood-alcohol level than a 20-year-old drinking the same amount. Add to this a mix of medications and decreased food intake common among the elderly and it’s clear how alcohol addiction can be very problematic.


Research shows that nearly one in five older adults is affected by alcohol and drug misuse. Yet few primary care physicians are aware: no one wants to ask and no one wants to tell. Many families feel it’s too late for the chronic alcoholic, and others are in outright denial that their parent could have a drinking problem. If your mother answers yes to any of the following questions (known as the CAGE questionnaire), then she has symptoms of alcoholism:


  • 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 (Eye-opener)?


A number of resources are available to help you learn how to approach your mom and her physician to help her gain control of her drinking problem. For tips about how to do this, reach out to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hopeline at 1.800.622.2255, find a family support group by calling Alcoholics Anon at 1.888.4AL.ANON, or research the latest information at the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information website at


Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to address the issue with your mom. Looking the other way or hoping she’ll just stop on her own denies both of you a healthy, happy relationship with each other, let alone her grandchildren. Keep in mind your mother might be depressed and the alcohol will only depress her more, so her treatment plan must include getting at the root of her need to drink. Part of the strategy should include getting her physically and mentally fit, which the resources mentioned above can help you do.


Need another reason to step in? Alcoholics are at great risk for cascading health problems, hospitalization and an early death. Act on your worries. 




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