Alcoholism in Older Women

Doctors in England have recently voiced alarm over a growing and under-recognized population of older women who are consuming alcohol and other drugs. New figures show more older women are entering formal treatment for alcoholism.

Government figures showed a 65 per cent increase in the number of women over pension age beginning treatment for drink related problems in the last five year. Nearly one in 10 are older women starting treatment, which compares to 6% five years ago.

The full extent of the problem among older women could be even higher than the figures suggest because many may be keeping their drinking hidden. These women usually do not fit the stereotypes associated with substance abuse or alcoholism.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr. Paul McLaren said:

“A common pattern is for regular drinkers, who have had their consumption constrained by the structure of working, tipping into harmful drinking in retirement. Increasing numbers of female retired professionals have developed drink problems after stepping down from successful careers, mirroring a pattern seen among men.”

While there is a similar trend among older men, the rise is half that of the women. Only 8% of males entering treatment were aged 60 compared to 6% five years ago. Significantly, the number of people of either sex aged between 18 and 24 beginning treatment fell by 23 per cent in the same period from 6,170 to 4,768.

Dr. McLaren added:

“Many of the women I see are retired professionals who never had issues with alcohol in the past. Retirement, bereavement and loneliness can increase a person’s drive for alcohol. But the dangers of alcohol are increased among older drinkers, particularly because of medication, frailty and other health problems.”

The health care field must develop cost–effective methods of screening, intervention, and treatment to provide optimal care for elderly people suffering with substance abuse. Older men and women can be successfully helped with substance abuse recovery. Alcoholism can happen even to the elderly, but recovery is possible regardless of age.

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