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Safer drinking

Most people drink alcohol occasionally and most of the time their drinking doesn’t cause any problems. In fact drinking very moderately can have some health and social benefits.

However, drinking too much or at the wrong time can cause harm. Alcohol can lead to difficulties in old age as much as at any other time of life. In fact, due to physical changes, alcohol can have a greater and more lasting effect with aging. There are many problems which can be caused or worsened by alcohol which might mistakenly be assumed to be a part of old age.

How much alcohol?

The Department of Health advises:  

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 3 - 4 units of alcohol per day.

  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2 - 3 units of alcohol per day.

You should also make sure that some days are ‘alcohol-free’.

For more information on what constitutes a ‘unit’ of alcohol and how you can safely drink it, check the NHS Choices website.

Safer drinking for older people

Many experts believe that safer drinking levels should become lower with age. The US Department of Health recommends no more than one drink a day for men and women over 65, which is the same as approximately 1.5 British units.

As people get older alcohol has a stronger effect on them because a reduction in lean body mass with age brings a decrease in the fluid in your body. This means alcohol becomes more concentrated in your system.

Many older people take medication on prescription or over the counter which can interact with alcohol. These interactions can be dangerous as they can increase the effects of the medication or the alcohol. They might increase side effects such as drowsiness, or make the medication less effective.

You should always seek advice from your GP, nurse, or pharmacist, before drinking alcohol with any medication. Kidneys become less efficient with age, thus reducing the body’s ability to process alcohol.  

Many older people have physical or mental health problems that are made worse by alcohol such as: 

  • depression

  • memory problems

  • arthritis

  • high blood pressure

  • diabetes

Drinking might also make you unsteady on your feet bringing the risk of falls and other accidents.

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