As we get older and our bodies change, our ability to tolerate alcohol changes too.
The changes you face as you get older are important to understand when thinking about drinking alcohol. Different health issues may develop as you age. You may also need to take more medications than you used to, or different medications that are affected by alcohol.
Here are some potential complications to consider and discuss with your healthcare provider:
- High blood alcohol concentration: As we age, muscle mass is replaced by fat tissue. This means that an older person who drinks the same amount as someone younger will generally have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The amount of water in our body also goes down with age, contributing to higher BAC.
- Slower processing of alcohol: The older you are the longer alcohol stays in your liver before it moves into the general bloodstream or is metabolised – increasing the risk of damage to your liver. Blood flow to your liver is decreased, along with your liver enzymes.
- Increased risk of accidents: Physical and mental functions (including coordination, vision, hearing and reflexes) become impaired as you age, putting you at higher risks of accidents such as falls, slips or car crashes.
- Potential medication interaction(s): If you take over-the-counter or prescription medication, you should always seek the advice of your doctor before drinking due to the possibility of side effects. Medications that are known to react with alcohol include:
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Blood thinners
- Diabetes drugs
Benefits of alcohol
For middle-aged or older people who are fit and healthy, research has shown the drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol (within the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from alcohol*) may lead to a lower risk of developing some conditions and diseases such as:
- Bone loss
- Cerebrovascular disease (including stroke)
- High blood pressure
- Other heart conditions
However, it is important to remember that you shouldn’t take up drinking just to get the health benefits.
*Through the evidence-based Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from alcohol (‘the guidelines’), the NHMRC provides guidance for Australians on reducing their risk of harm from drinking alcohol. The NHMRC is currently undertaking a review of the guidelines – the guidelines will be updated on this page once the review is complete.