Many people enjoy a cocktail at the end of the day, a beer after exercise, or a glass of wine with dinner. For the most part, moderate drinking is harmless, and might even offer some health benefits. But sometimes, imbibing is unwise and even dangerous.
What does age have to do with it? We know drinking is bad for teens. Their grandparents, too, should think about their drinking. As we grow older, our bodies can’t process alcohol as efficiently, so we feel the effects more. Most people know that alcohol can damage the liver; as we grow older, drinking is increasingly associated with heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes and depression. And it’s no surprise that drinking raises the risk of car crashes and falls.
And in September 2016, researchers from University of Florida released the results of a study showing that the older we are, the more alcohol affects our thinking and memory. Said professor Adam Woods, “As people get older, their decline of memory is one of their greatest complaints. We found that in those who drink heavily, as they age, they have a greater decline in thinking and memory than their nondrinking or moderate-drinking counterparts.” Woods said seniors who are currently, or even were formerly, heavy drinkers have “poorer global cognitive function, learning, memory and motor function,” as well as decreased attention span.
Add to this the fact that most older adults take prescription and over-the-counter medications. Medication management is a challenge for seniors—not only because they take so many different drugs, but also, just as is the case with alcohol, older bodies break down these substances differently. Many medications can have side effects; combining medications raises the risk considerably. Add alcohol to the mix, and seniors are far more likely to experience side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, headaches, fainting, falling, internal bleeding and other stomach problems. Alcohol may even make certain medications less effective.
Yet many older adults are unaware of this problem. The National Institutes of Health recently reported that almost half of all seniors who drink alcohol also take medications that could interact negatively with these alcoholic beverages. These include prescription and nonprescription drugs, and even certain herbal remedies. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that these drugs include:
- Cold and allergy medicines
- Cough syrup
- Sleeping pills
- Pain medications
- Anxiety or depression medicine
How can seniors avoid a dangerous combination of medications and alcohol?
- Learn about the possible side effects of your medications.
- Read the label of your medications, both prescription and nonprescription, to see if it’s not advised to drink alcohol while taking the drug.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s safe to drink alcohol while taking your medications.
- Remember that alcohol and medications can interact harmfully even if taken at different times.
- If you think you might be drinking too much, talk to your doctor.
- Never drink and drive. Period.
Visit the website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to find a comprehensive list of medications that may interact negatively with alcoholhttp://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Medicine/medicine.htm, including a list of side effects seniors may notice.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, with materials from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism