Alcohol Use and Older Adults

How Alcohol Affects Safety

Even a Small Amount Can Be Dangerous

Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can lead to dangerous or even deadly situations. Drinking can impair a person’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This increases the risk of falls, household accidents, and car crashes. Alcohol is a factor in 30 percent of suicides, 40 percent of crashes and burns, 50 percent of drownings and homicides, and 60 percent of falls. People who plan to drive, use machinery, or perform other activities that require attention, skill, or coordination should not drink

In addition, mixing alcohol and medicines can be harmful. Alcohol, like some medicines, can make you sleepy, drowsy, or lightheaded. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol while taking medicines can intensify these effects.

Falls More Likely

In older adults, too much alcohol can lead to balance problems and falls, which can result in hip or arm fractures and other injuries. Older people have thinner bones than younger people, so their bones break more easily. Studies show that the rate of hip fractures in older adults increases with alcohol use.

Drinking and Driving

Adults of all ages who drink and drive are at higher risk of traffic accidents and related problems than those who do not drink. Drinking slows reaction times and coordination and interferes with eye movement and information processing. People who drink even a moderate amount can have traffic accidents, possibly resulting in injury or death to themselves and others. Even without alcohol, the risk of crashes goes up starting at age 55. Also, older drivers tend to be more seriously hurt in crashes than younger drivers. Alcohol adds to these age-related risks.

In all states, it is against the law for people to drive if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above .08. Blood alcohol concentration measures the percentage of ethanol—the chemical name for alcohol—in a person’s blood. The higher the BAC, the more impaired a person is. The amount of alcohol consumed, gender, weight, and body fat all affect a person’s BAC. A BAC below the legal limit can still impair driving skills. Some people are impaired even when they don't think they are. If you plan to drive, don’t drink. If you drink, let someone else who has not been drinking do the driving.

Drinking and Relationships

Alcohol misuse and abuse can strain relationships with family members, friends, and others. At the extreme, heavy drinking can contribute to domestic violence and child abuse or neglect. Alcohol use is often involved when people become violent as well as when they are violently attacked. If you feel that alcohol is endangering you or someone else, call 911 or get other help right away.