Know… about alcohol and older people

Alcohol can have a greater effect on our bodies as we get older. About a third of older people with alcohol problems develop them for the first time in later life.

As people get older, their bodies change. Alcohol is broken down more slowly, and they become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Therefore, if people continue to drink the same amount of alcohol, as they get older, it is likely to affect them more. It is important for people as they get older to be aware of how much they are drinking and to think about drinking less.

Major changes in our life can lead to our drinking levels creeping up without us realising.
These life changes include:

  • bereavement;
  • physical ill-health;
  • becoming a carer;
  • loneliness;
  • difficulty getting around;
  • social isolation;
  • changes in life patterns, eg no longer working;
  • unhappiness or depression.

Problem drinking in older people is often hidden and the symptoms can be mistaken for a physical or mental health problem.

For older people, it is important to set clear drinking limits. Older people who drink too much are more at risk of a range of both physical and mental health issues. These include:

  • accidents;
  • stroke;
  • heart disease;
  • cancer;
  • depression;
  • confusion or dementia.

The booklet ‘Alcohol, drugs and older people’ has lots more information on the issues.

It sets out the risks of drinking too much alcohol. It also highlights the risks associated with misusing drugs, in particular prescription and over-the-counter medicines. It also has information on how those concerned about their alcohol or drug use can get support.

It was produced by the Public Health Agency (PHA) in partnership with the Belfast Health Development Unit (BHDU), Addiction NI and Drink Think.

And it is available online at