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Late Onset Alcoholism

Aging and Drinking

After decades of hard work, our nation’s seniors find their golden years increasingly more complicated. The house that was so often filled with noise, joy, and laughter is now an empty nest. The guarantees of retirement pensions and 401(k)s are no longer a certain. The unoccupied time and unexpected stress can sometimes lead to late onset alcoholism. The extra glass of wine at lunch or some afternoon scotch evolves slowly into a developing health issue for individuals who achieved through hard work and discipline of their adult lives. Scientific research concerning late onset alcoholism helps explain some of the causes and the extent to which this problem affects our loved ones in their retirement.

One critical characteristic regarding alcoholism, including cases involving seniors and the elderly, is the understanding of the disease in its relationship to the brain. No matter the age at which alcoholism overtakes an individual, the resulting disease and potential relapses constitute what is 

considered a brain disorder in the medical community. Some of the latest research has shown alcoholism to be the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Further, while all alcoholism presents differently, researchers have shown that late onset alcoholism is less likely to be associated with a family history of the disease. One specific National Institute of Health case study focused on a 66-year-old retired teacher who became distressed watching TV focusing on financial news. What started off as a simple night cap evolved into a morning drink consisting of two large bloody Mary’s, multiple glasses of wine with each meal, and other drinks to maintain what the patient felt was a sense of normality. While most individuals reduce the amount of alcohol they intake as they age, late onset alcoholism provides a different set of symptoms for practitioners to observe (Johnson 2010).

 Members of the “baby boomer” generation who find themselves suffering from alcoholism brought on in later parts of life face unique challenges associated with these diseases. Unlike younger counterparts, research has shown that late onset alcoholism among the elderly does not place significant detriments on employment prospects, family relationships, mental health, or potential drug use. The prospects of harm for seniors fall in different areas. As one reaches the later years of adulthood, the body’s water composition decreases, resulting in the body failing to absorb alcohol as it once it did and leading to higher blood alcohol levels among the elderly.  In addition, senior populations are more likely to be taking prescribed medications which adversely interact with alcohol. These interactions can lead to increased levels of complication, such as higher ratesofdepression. Further, focusing on younger instances of alcoholism prevents current institutions from implementing strategies to adequately combat alcoholism within older populations (Nielsen et al. 2010).

 One of the only long-term studies on post liver transplant complications further directs concern for those suffering from late onset alcoholism. The results of the study clearly point at a population with lowered immune systems, such as seniors, combined with severe and immediate onset alcoholism, being a center for those with the most prominent risk factors for a specific type of tumor after a liver transplant. These post-transplant complications are only increased by the type of alcoholism and other factors. The study indicates that males are more likely to suffer these complications than women. However, the most critical statistical factor, other than alcohol use, is not gender. The study notes that the age range most associated with post liver transplant tumors are those between 55 and 59. This is yet another concern for those seniors who suffer from alcoholism later in life (Maggi et al. 2013).

Given the unique nature of alcoholism developing later in life, the diagnosis process is significantly different. In terms of biological diagnosis, late onset alcoholics do not exhibit the same characteristics as those who have an early onset of alcoholism. Some biological connections to violent crime, depression, and suicide attempts that are connected with earlier sufferers of alcoholism include a specific measure of central serotonergicactivity. The serotonergic function that leads to antisocial tendencies is not found in research data correlations for late onset alcoholics. The lack of data for late onset alcoholics presents confusion within the diagnostic process. Some members of a group that were older when severe drinking began showed some positive reactions to sertraline treatments (Krenzler et al. 2012). However, additional data are needed.

Among the elderly who suffer from alcohol abuse, symptoms typically are associated with isolation, general health failure, cognitive issues, and falls. These characteristics are not specific enough to point to alcoholism, due to the vagueness of description and the ability to attribute these symptoms to other causes. One study from a Mayo Clinic doctor in a Marquette University-based journal shows that the hereditary traits most often seen in alcoholics do not necessarily apply to late onset victims of the disease. Family connection is not prominently shown as a signal of possible alcoholism in the elderly. Often, this study shows that a major event late in life, such as retirement or the death of a spouse, is the trigger for the disease. Fortunately, this study shows late onset alcoholism is often more receptive to treatment than other forms of the disease (Finlayson 2012).

Are you suffering from the effects of alcoholism during a time in your life where you should be rewarded for the decades of hard work you’ve done for yourself and your family? Do you know someone who might be suffering from late onset alcoholism, but doesn’t know how to get the help they need? Our team is standing by to help you, and the people you love, make the best of all the years you have left. The hard work of life has been done for decades, and now it’s time to be rewarded. We are excited to be there for you call us today 1-800-610-4673 for help.



  • Finlayson, Richard E. “Alcoholism in Late Life: Some Issues.” Marquette Elder’s Advisor 2, no. 1 (2012): 85.
  • Johnson, Bankole A. Am J Psychiatry. 2010 June; 167(6): 630–639.
  • Kranzler, Henry R., Richard Feinn, Stephen Armeli, and Howard Tennen. “Comparison of alcoholism subtypes as moderators of the response to sertraline treatment.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 36, no. 3 (2012): 509-516.
  • Nielsen, Bent, Anette Søgaard Nielsen, Anette Lolk, and Kjeld Andersen. “Elderly alcoholics in outpatient treatment.” Dan Med Bull 57, no. 11 (2010): A4209.
  • Maggi, Umberto, Dario Consonni, Matteo Angelo Manini, Stefano Gatti, Francesco Cuccaro, Francesca Donato, Grazia Conte, Pier Alberto Bertazzi, and Giorgio Rossi. “Early and Late De Novo Tumors after Liver Transplantation in Adults: The Late Onset of Bladder Tumors in Men.” PloS one 8, no. 6 (2013): e65238.