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Tri-Valley receives many questions from area seniors, younger people with disabilities and
caregivers and has created this monthly Help-line column to provide some assistance. We are
also available five days a week to answer individual questions.
Seniors & Safer Drinking
Q: Should older people be careful about their alcohol intake?
Yes. According to the Massachusetts Office of Healthy Aging, part of the Department of
Public Health, not drinking any alcohol is the safest choice---but if you know your body and
your own limits when it comes to alcohol, you can drink ‘more safely.’
Older people have a slower rate of metabolism---the process which breaks down food
into energy. Having a slower metabolic rate means it’s harder for elders to process food and
alcohol as fast as we used to. Alcohol therefore remains in our body longer, and at higher
amounts. Older women, in particular, are less able to break down alcohol, so alcohol affects
Some seniors, after drinking, notice their vision is blurry; their balance is not as good,
they feel less alert, and slower to react. This can lead to falls, car accidents, and other dangerous
outcomes. Even in small amounts, alcohol can harm your health: making it harder to manage
diabetes, harder to control high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. Alcohol use has
been linked to breast, stomach and liver cancer.
Older people are often concerned about whether the medications they take will cause a
bad interaction with alcohol. Such bad side effects can lead to illness, injury, and even death.
Twenty-five percent of emergency room visits are linked to alcohol-medication interactions.
There are more than 100 medications that cause a bad reaction mixed with alcohol. Even some
common over-the-counter medications can cause bad side effects. If you are taking such
medications as Tylenol, aspirin, Advil, Aleve, cold or cough medicine, laxatives, sleeping pills,
vitamins or herbal and dietary supplements---ask your pharmacist when you buy these
medications how they interact with alcohol.
Some of the bad side effects from alcohol and medications can include: memory trouble
after drinking; frequent falls or unsteady walk; trouble sleeping; unexplained bruises; sadness
and depression; unexplained pain; changes in eating habits; trouble focusing or concentrating,
If you take any of the following medications, you should avoid alcohol: anticoagulants
(like Coumadin or Warfarin); antidepressants, antihistamines for allergies; barbiturates and
benzodiazepines to reduce stress and anxiety; high blood pressure meds; hypoglycemics to treat
diabetes; sedatives and hypnotics. Always check the label on your medication bottle, and talk to
your doctor if you are not sure whether or not to avoid alcohol given your list of drugs.
It is a myth that a “nightcap” will help you go to sleep. The reality is a drink as much as
six hours before bedtime can make it harder for you to sleep soundly. A drink might make you
fall asleep faster---but it may keep you awake later in the night. Another myth is that alcohol
enhances your sex life. Studies reveal that alcohol lowers sex drive and dulls sensations in both
If you are an older person who would like to reduce your drinking, consider these tips: 1)
while you are drinking, also eat—so that it takes longer for the alcohol to reach your blood
stream; 2) have a glass of water before you drink, to compensate for the fact that alcohol causes
your body to lose water, making you thirstier; 3) for every drink you take, match it with a non-
alcoholic drink, like juice or soda, to give your body a longer time to process the alcohol; 4)
don’t ‘top off’ your drink---just drink one drink at a time. 5) dilute your drink with ice, juice or
soda; 6) drink ‘virgin’ cocktails using non-alcoholic mixers 7) drink slowly, putting your glass
down in between sips. Drinking is not a race.
To learn more about safer use of medications with alcohol, call the Massachusetts Health
Promotion Information Line at 1-800-962-6637, press “3” and leave a message that you want to
order “Healthy Aging: Medications and Alcohol,” or go to www.maclearinghouse.com.
Tri-Valley continues to be ready to assist you with other questions through its free
information & referral HELP-LINE at (508) 949-6640 or 1-800-286-6640. You may also access
Tri-Valley by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the agency’s website at:
Tri-Valley, Inc. is a private non-profit agency providing in-home and community based
services in 25 Southern Worcester County towns. The agency receives funding from the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Federal
financial support under the Older Americans Act furnished by the Central Massachusetts Agency
on Aging and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Funds are also received
from other public and private sources. All donations are welcome and memorials may be
established. Marilyn L. Travinski is the executive director.
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