Aging & Addiction

Addiction and Health

Alcohol is the drug of choice for most older adults. It is also the most damaging drug to the human body. In terms of physical health, cognitive functioning, and ability to live independently, alcohol is the drug most responsible for transporting our elders into the realm of the “old-old.”

Alcohol impacts every organ in the body. Since, the aging body is unable to metabolize alcohol as quickly as it once did, alcohol stays in the system longer, causing more damage to the organs.

Following, is a partial list of the ways alcoholism and heavy alcohol consumption impacts the body:

  • Heart: Predisposes older people to heart conditions, especially heart failure, coronary artery disease, defects in the heart's conduction system, and arrhythmia. Alcohol can cause high blood pressure.
  • Brain: Alcohol has a far greater effect on cognition than does aging.  It impairs judgment, reasoning, learning, coordination, memory, and speech. Prolonged, heavy drinking can cause brain damage.
  • Pancreas: Alcohol causes pancreatitis. It can also be a source of secondary diabetes.
  • Bones and Blood: Alcohol contributes to osteoporosis. Lowers one’s ability to fight off disease, causes anemia, and increases the likelihood  of bruising.
  • Digestive Tract: Alcohol affects the health of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. It can cause gastritis, bleeding ulcers, and colitis. Alcohol reduces the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals which can lead to a wide range of symptoms and health problems.
  • Kidneys: Alcohol can cause edema and body fluid retention. It can cause nephritis, which can lead to permanent kidney damage.
  • Bladder: Alcohol can cause cystitis or prostatitis. It can cause frequency of urination and incontinence. It decreases  resistance to infections.
  • Liver: Alcohol is responsible for many serious liver conditions, including jaundice, hepatitis, low and high blood sugar levels, varicose veins, fatty liver, and gout.
  • Cancer: Alcohol increases the risk for several types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, and cancer of the lung, urinary track, esophagus, larynx, and brain.

Alcoholism also causes diarrhea, serious pneumonia, insomnia, hemorrhagic stroke, and more. In older adults, it takes less alcohol in the bloodstream to damage the body.

Addiction to mood-altering prescription drugs negatively impacts older adults’ health, mental capacity, and lifespan. It is estimated that long-term addiction to medications such as sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and pain pills can reduce life expectancy about 15 years.