Apr 272012

Drinking alcohol is very much a part of our culture but if your parent takes medication you should know if there are any adverse interactions. Some medications, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, do not mix well with alcohol.

Caregivers should also be aware that as we age, the way our body handles alcohol changes. Alcohol is broken down by the liver for removal from the body. So are many medications (acetaminophen comes to mind) and this can lead to permanent liver damage or even death. Slower circulation may keep medications and alcohol in the blood stream longer. The liver and kidneys may see slower function causing medications to stay in your body longer and creating a greater chance of interaction.

Caregivers should educate themselves on any medication their parents take. Read the instructions carefully, especially the interactions and precautions. Look for pictures or statements that tell you to avoid alcohol while taking this medication.

Drinking alcohol while taking medication for sleep, pain, anxiety or depression can lead to coma or death. Please check with your parent’s doctor or pharmacist, as even one drink may be too much. It might be another medication would be less dangerous.

All your parent’s healthcare providers should know their drinking habits as well as any medications, prescribed and over-the-counter, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbal preparations. You should go over this information with them at least once a year.

Alcoholic drinks should be limited to one a day for anyone over the age of 65. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 1 and a half ounces of distilled spirits or 5 ounces of wine.

Medicine and alcohol misuse can happen unintentionally.

Here are some signals caregiver’s should watch for that may indicate an alcohol or medication-related problem:

  • Memory trouble after having a drink or taking medicine
  • Loss of coordination (walking unsteadily, frequent falls)
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Being unsure of yourself
  • Irritability, sadness, depression
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Wanting to stay alone a lot of the time
  • Failing to bathe or keep clean
  • Having trouble finishing sentences
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends
  • Lack of interest in usual activities

Some of these signs may indicate a problem with drug or alcohol addiction. If caregivers suspect there is a problem and there is no previous history of addiction, they should talk with their parent’s healthcare provider first. There could be an underlying medical condition.

If there is a history of addiction, make sure everyone involved in the care of your parent knows that, especially physicians and pharmacists. Encourage your parent to seek treatment for their addiction and at the very least get some help yourself so that you can more effectively help them without harming yourself.

Source: FDA


  13 Responses to “Elderly, Medication and Alcohol”

  1. mixing alcohol and almost any pill is not a good idea!

  2. I’ve never heard any advice about alcohol consumption over the age of 65. That is a great tip to know. And I agree with Dan that any alcohol combined with any medication is a bad idea…

    Sabrina Peterson, NASM CPT, CES
    Fat Loss and Fitness 101

  3. Suzanne,
    Mixing alchohol with old age is a bad idea. Not allowed. :)

    Body Language: Honest Feet

  4. Looks like you covered all the basis. And all your blogs are timely for me. the lady next door was having many of these symtoms, one moment she is fine and the next … well all I could think of is she had a mini stroke.

    Yesterday she called 911 in herself but then refused to go to the hospital. Of course I just learned she is taking the can’t beat them join them attitude (She is living with her son and they all don’t get along, and drink apparently) and has been having a beer now and then which is probably interfering with her meds.

    IDK it is a rough situation next door.

    Bands Clubs Bars Gigs

  5. Alcohol and medications should never be mixed…especially pain medications. I have found that everyone can benefit from a liver cleanse and detoxification…especially if they have had to be on pain killers.

    Yours In Health!

    G.E. Moon II
    Build Your Brain Muscles

  6. This is a very good reminder for anyone who is dealing with the elderly. Sometimes people who never drank before take it up as they age…
    Sonya Lenzo

  7. Alcoholism is much more common in the elderly then generally believed.

  8. It seems strange that older people would still struggle with alcohol…

    Sales Expert

  9. This makes a lot of sense. I would imagine that people on a number of medications would be well advised to abstain from acohol consumption.

    Cherie Miranda
    Meditation for Caregivers

  10. What a great resource for those who would like to learn about being a caregiver.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Body language of nervousness
    Now go implement!

  11. It’s interesting how some caregivers may not ever think about this.
    Another great post!
    Looking forward to tomorrow 
    Do you suffer from caregiver stress?

  12. Hi Nurse Suzanne,

    I run across a significant percentage of the elderly enjoying quite a bit on the daily cocktail time. Do you see a touch of alcohol abuse amongst the senior parents being cared for? As a way to numb things for feeling a bit depressed or anything?


    April Braswell, CHt, RH
    Quit Dipping Tobacco Seal Beach

    • Mostly the elders I see drinking alcohol have been doing it for years, though depression can make it worse.

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