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.