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Medically Reviewed

What is Alcoholism Treatment Like for Older Adults?

- 5 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcohol abuse among seniors has been steadily increasing in the past several decades. Research indicates that approximately 20 percent of adults aged 60-64 and around 11 percent over age 65 report current binge drinking. Some projections suggest that the number will keep rising.[1]

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are complex conditions that require compassionate care and treatment. It’s important to consider what factors might put people at risk of developing these conditions and connect people with the resources they need to recover and manage them for the rest of their lives.

Understanding the causes of the rise in alcohol abuse among older adults and how to find alcoholism treatment for seniors can help you make the best decision for yourself or a senior in your life.

Alcohol Abuse Among Older Adults

So, why is alcohol abuse among seniors such a significant concern? First, alcohol abuse can lead to serious mental and physical health harm for people of any age. But older adults may face even more severe consequences because of how they metabolize alcohol. As people grow older, their metabolism can slow down. When an older adult drinks alcohol, it remains in their system for a longer period–which can lead to increased damage to their health.[1]

Another significant risk occurs when people mix medications and alcohol. Older adults are more likely to take medications to manage ongoing health concerns, such as high cholesterol, mental illness, pain, or high blood pressure. Mixing medications and alcohol can increase a person’s risk of complications and unintended side effects like blood pressure changes, dizziness, and falls.

What Can Lead to Alcohol Abuse Among Seniors?

Growing older can lead to many significant changes in a person’s life. Older adults may use alcohol to cope with these challenges and stressors. Over time, they may develop dependence or addiction to alcohol and require treatment to stop drinking.

Some of the common stressors of growing older include:[2]

  • Experiencing problems in your health, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hearing or vision impairment, or chronic pain
  • Having an “empty nest” after adult children move out
  • Isolation or loss of friendships because of life changes, death, or illness
  • Boredom in retirement
  • Trauma from the death of parents, spouse, friends, and other loved ones
  • Financial worries–lack of savings, downsizing or living with relatives, concerns about money in retirement, etc.

When a person’s stress exceeds their ability to cope, some may turn to alcohol to give them relief. While drinking may temporarily relieve stress, it can lead to bigger, more challenging problems in the future–including addiction.

How to Know if Someone Needs Alcoholism Treatment for Seniors

Alcohol abuse among seniors may be misdiagnosed. Some of the symptoms of alcoholism, such as isolation, sleep disturbances, and mood swings, may be mistaken for depression–and doctors may not include substance abuse screenings in their older patients’ annual exams.

Friends and family members are often the first to recognize alcohol abuse among seniors. It’s important to recognize the signs that a loved one requires alcohol rehab for seniors.

Some typical signs of alcohol abuse and addiction include:[2]

  • Appearing intoxicated–slurring speech, smelling of alcohol, unsteady gait,
  • Lying about how much they’ve had to drink
  • Drinking to cope with anxiety, stress, or depression
  • Experiencing agitation or mood swings when sober
  • Hiding alcohol or empty bottles
  • Getting injured, harming someone else, or being involved in an accident while intoxicated

These are clear signs that older adults may require treatment for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. It’s crucial to seek help as soon as you recognize a problem.

What Happens During Alcohol Rehab for Seniors?

The stigma surrounding alcoholism may prevent seniors and their loved ones from seeking treatment. But alcoholism treatment for seniors can give people the support, connection, and care they need to put alcohol abuse in the past and focus on enjoying the rest of their life in better health.

Alcoholism is defined as the loss of control over your alcohol consumption. People with alcoholism have developed a physical dependence on alcohol and are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. For many, withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable.

But some people develop life-threatening complications during alcohol withdrawal, including seizures, confusion, and dangerously elevated body temperature. The risk of complications is heightened for people with other health problems. For this reason, many older people require the support of a medically-supervised detox program to allow for a safe, complete detox from alcohol.

After completing detox, people must complete a treatment program to address alcoholism’s physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects. Alcoholism treatment programs can be tailored to meet people’s unique needs and are available in several levels of care, including:

  • Outpatient programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
  • Residential or inpatient programs

During treatment, people will work through a treatment program that uses a combination of evidence-based and holistic treatments to support recovery from alcoholism. These treatments are likely to include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Medications
  • Medical and mental health care
  • Family therapy, when appropriate
  • Education
  • Skill-building practices
  • Holistic therapies like massage, exercise, mindfulness, art therapy, and nutrition support

Most importantly, rehab must be sensitive to the needs of seniors. Appropriate accommodations should be made for disabilities or mobility issues, support groups should be tailored to seniors’ needs, and a collaborative approach that involves all of the patient’s healthcare providers, including those outside of the facility, should be top priority.

The nurturing support people receive from an alcohol rehab for seniors can give them the tools to manage their stressors in healthy ways and avoid relapse for the rest of their lives. It can give people a chance to take control over their drinking and their lives so their golden years can be as fulfilling as possible.

Find Help Now

If you are concerned about alcohol abuse among seniors in your life, reach out to the Carolina Center for Recovery specialists for information about our comprehensive alcoholism treatment programs. Our admission team will help make it easy to give your loved one the care and treatment they need to recover and live a healthier, sober lifestyle.