Alcohol and Age
How factors relating to age can increase risks of alcohol
Many older Australians (65 years and older) drink alcohol every day, but are conscious of the side effects and consequences of alcohol. Research suggests that most drink less at any one time than younger people, are less likely to binge drink and know to stop or reduce drinking when unwell.
Do the risks of alcohol increase as you age?
Yes. This is because your ability to ‘tolerate’ alcohol decreases as you get older because:
- Your ratio of body water to body fat decreases, so there is less body water in which to dilute the alcohol. Hence, an older person who drinks the same amount as a younger person will have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
- Blood flow to your liver is decreased and your liver enzymes that break down alcohol are slower. Therefore, alcohol stays in your liver longer before it is moved into the general blood stream or broken down, which increases the risk of damage to your liver.
- Your mental and physical functions also decrease including coordination, vision, hearing and reaction time. This means you have a higher risk of accidents after drinking, such as falls and car crashes.
Alcohol can also interact with over-the-counter and prescription medicines that you may be taking. The effects of alcohol are increased by medicines that slow down the brain such as sleeping pills, anti-histamines, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs and some painkillers.
Alcohol and medicines such as antibiotics, anti-blood clotting, anti-high blood pressure and anti-diabetic drugs may also be broken down in the liver by the same enzymes. This may lead to unwanted side effects from either the alcohol or the medicine.
If you are a healthy person over the age of 65 who drinks a light to moderate amount of alcohol, you usually have a lower risk of developing:
- Heart conditions, such as the following diseases and disorders of the heart and the blood vessels (arteries and veins):
- Atherosclerosis (hardening and rigidity of the artery wall)
- High blood pressure
- Heart attacks
- Heart failure and
- Strokes, either from blockages or ruptures of brain blood vessels.
- Dementias, and your ability to perceive, reason, remember and think is improved
- Bone loss
However, if you continuously drink heavy or excessive amounts of alcohol, your risk of developing these diseases and disorders are increased.