The Administration on Aging and The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration issued a brief on Alcohol Misuse and Abuse Prevention. Community surveys have
estimated the prevalence of problem drinking among
older adults from 1 percent to 16 percent, depending on the definitions of older adults, at-risk and problem drinking, and alcohol abuse/dependence.
Estimates of alcohol problems are the highest among
people seeking health care because individuals with
drinking problems are more likely to seek medical care. Fourteen percent of men and 3 percent of women older
than age 65 engage in binge drinking.
Misuse and abuse of alcohol in older adults present unique challenges for recognizing the problem
and determining the most appropriate treatment
interventions. Alcohol use problems in this age group
often go unrecognized and, if they are recognized, are
generally undertreated. Standard diagnostic criteria for
abuse or dependence are difficult to apply to older adults,
leading to under-identification of the problem. Older
adults who are experiencing substance misuse and abuse
are a growing and vulnerable population.
For adults ages 60 and older the recommended limits of alcohol consumption are:
Men: No more than 7 drinks/week, or 1 standard drink/day;
Women: No more than 7 drinks/week, or 1 standard drink/day;
SBIRT is a comprehensive model for addressing at-risk
alcohol use, problem use, and dependence in a variety of health
Screening quickly assesses the severity of substance
use and identifies the appropriate level of intervention.
interventions focus on increasing insight into and awareness of
substance use and motivation for behavioral change.
Referral to treatment provides access to specialty substance abuse
assessment and care, if needed.
According to the brief, the majority of older adults who are at risk
for problem alcohol use, psychoactive prescription medication
use, or both do not need formal specialized substance abuse
treatment. However, many can benefit from prevention
messages, screening, and brief interventions.
The first step in helping older adults who are at-risk for
problems related to alcohol use is screening. The most useful
alcohol screening instruments include questions on quantity/
frequency and binge drinking to determine an estimate of the
amounts consumed, and consequences to determine the extent
and severity of the problems.
While this brief was certainly written for health professionals and social service professionals, nonetheless, it is important to know that substance abuse among older adults is real and knowing the acceptable limits of consumption can help you identify someone at risk. That is the first step in getting that person help.