Alcohol Use and Older Adults

Getting Help

People Can Be Treated Successfully

Most people with alcohol problems can be treated successfully. People with an alcohol use disorder and those who misuse alcohol and cannot stay within healthy drinking limits should stop drinking altogether. Others can cut back until their drinking is under control. Changing drinking habits isn’t easy. Often it takes more than one try to succeed. But people don’t have to “go it alone.” There are plenty of sources of help.

(Watch the video to learn more about getting help for alcohol use disorder (AUD). To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Treatment for Alcohol Problems

A doctor can help decide the best treatment for people with alcohol problems. Many people need more than one kind of treatment. Medicines can help people with an alcohol use disorder quit drinking. Meeting with a therapist or substance-abuse counselor or with a support group may also help. Support from family and friends is important, too. A doctor can help a person decide on the best treatment. Making a change sooner rather than later makes treatment more likely to succeed.

Older people with alcohol problems respond to treatment as well as younger people. Some studies suggest that older adults do better when they are treated with other people the same age instead of mixed in with younger adults. Some communities have treatment programs and support groups specifically for older adults.

Learn more about available types of alcohol treatment.

Medicines for Alcohol Use Disorder

Prescription medicines can help people with an alcohol use disorder reduce their drinking, avoid going back to heavy drinking, and get sober. Because alcohol affects people differently, these medications may not work for everyone. It may be necessary to try more than one or to use them in combination with other therapies. .

There are three medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

  • Naltrexone (Depade®, ReVia®, Vivitrol®) acts in the brain to reduce craving for alcohol
  • Acamprosate (Campral®) helps manage withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, and sweating that may lead to a drinking relapse
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse®) makes a person feel sick after drinking alcohol.

Behavioral Interventions

Talking about alcohol use with a professional is beneficial to many people. Counseling—either one on one or in groups--can help develop skills to stop or reduce drinking, develop reachable goals, manage the “triggers” that lead to alcohol misuse and build a strong social support system that supports healthy habits. There are many kinds of counseling approaches Cognitive Behavior Therapy; Motivational Enhancement Therapy; Marital and Family Counseling; and Brief Interventions. Counseling can be provided by primary care doctors; psychiatrists; psychologists; social workers; and certified alcohol counselors.

Support Groups Can Help

Many people with alcohol problems find it helpful to talk with others who have faced similar problems. Mutual help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA’s “12-step” program helps people recover from alcohol use disorder. AA meetings are open to anyone who wants to stop drinking. Attending self-help groups is beneficial for many people who want to stop drinking. Many people continue to go to support groups even after medical treatment for their alcohol problems ends. There are other mutual help groups available such as Smart Recovery, Life Ring, and Moderation Management.

To find help in your area, ask your doctor, local health department, or a local social service agency. You may also contact the following resources.

  • The Federal government's Treatment Facility Locator at 1-800-662-4357 or
  • Alcoholics Anonymous -- see your local phone book, call 1-212-870-3400, or visit to find a group in your area
  • Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or

Some people with an alcohol use disorder are treated in a facility, such as a hospital, mental health center, or substance abuse clinic. Treatment may last as long as several weeks. This type of treatment typically involves detoxification (when a person is weaned from alcohol), medicine, and counseling.

Steps to Quit or Cut Back on Drinking

People with alcohol problems can take several steps on their own to help themselves. They can write down their reasons for cutting back or quitting, such as to avoid hangovers or improve relationships. They can write down a goal -- a limit on how many drinks they will have each day -- and put it somewhere easy to see. Then, they can keep track of drinking habits for a week to see if the goal was achieved. Other steps are to plan alcohol-free days each week and to drink water, juice, or soda instead of liquor.

There are some other actions that you can take to help change drinking habits:

  • Remove alcohol from the home.
  • Sip slowly and eat food when drinking.
  • Say "no thanks" or "I'll have a soda instead" when offered a drink. If tempted to drink, think about the reasons for changing, talk to someone, or get involved with a non-drinking activity.
  • Avoid drinking when angry, upset or having a bad day.
  • Stay away from people who drink a lot and the places where drinking happens.
  • Use the time and money spent on drinking to do something fun.

Sticking With It

When treatment is successful, people have longer and longer periods without drinking alcohol. Finally, they are able to stop drinking or stick to healthy drinking limits. But treatment does not always work. Also, many people with alcohol problems do not even seek treatment. People with alcohol problems cannot be forced to get help, but family members and friends can support them when they are ready. For more information about dealing with alcohol problems, see