Welcome to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs
ADP Women's Page Parenting

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is seldom identified, diagnosed, or treated in the elderly. Many of the symptoms of alcoholism are mistaken or confused with symptoms of diseases that can occur with advanced age. Failure to recognize alcoholism results in the treatment of a symptom (confusion, depression, disorientation, falls, etc.) rather than the real problem.

Triggers of Alcoholism in the Elderly

About two-thirds of elderly alcoholics started drinking at a young age, while one-third began drinking after experiencing life changes.

Changes in life such as retirement, death or separation from a family member, friend, or pet, health concerns, reduced income, impairment of sleep, or familial conflict often triggers alcohol abuse.

Effects of Alcohol on the Elderly

Alcohol has a particularly toxic effect on older persons. This is due to dramatically reduced body water volume that occurs with advanced age. Even relatively small doses of alcohol can have serious effects on older persons.

Brain tissue of the elderly is extremely sensitive to alcohol. This sensitivity can cause memory loss, confusion, disorientation, and loss of motor control that can result in serious or fatal falls.

The effects of alcohol addiction are further complicated when alcohol is combined with medications. Often the older person who is abusing alcohol may also be abusing or misusing medications. Moderate drinking may exacerbate hypertension, and heavy drinking increases the risk of a stroke. Learn more


Increase the activity level and social interactions of the elderly family member. Senior groups and volunteer work are examples of ways to increase companionship and self-esteem. Learn more