Does alcohol tolerance change when you get older?

When we get older, it’s not uncommon for our bodies to react differently to the foods and drinks we enjoyed when we were younger. This is especially true with alcohol. Some people become extra sensitive to alcohol, which means even a small amount could cause problems. 


These problems aren’t just things like saying the wrong thing at the family party, either. They can include issues like falling, getting a fall-related injury, or even something as dangerous as crashing a car.

Side Effects

Plus, if you take prescription medications, alcohol can interact with those in bad ways. For example, alcohol can make a medication less effective. If you take a medication with side effects, it can make those side effects feel worse, or even cause new symptoms that make you feel sick. Some medications enhance the effects of alcohol, making you feel drunker, or make your medication toxic to your body. Sleeping pills, mood stabilizers, antibiotics, and diabetes medications are just some of the things you should not drink alcohol while taking.

As you get older, your body takes longer to break down alcohol, meaning it stays in your blood and you may feel the effects longer. 

Long-Term Effects

Over time, excessive drinking can lead to: 

  • Certain types of cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Immune system disorders
  • Brain damage
  • Higher risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, memory loss, mood disorders
  • Changes in the heart that dull the symptoms of serious problems, like a heart attack

Excessive alcohol consumption in older adults is sometimes hidden by what we think of as common signs of aging. Balance problems, falls, forgetfulness, and confusion are all side effects of age-related conditions as well as excessive alcohol intake.

For these reasons, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests adults 65 and older shouldn’t drink more than 3 drinks in a day or 7 drinks in a week. This is for healthy adults who don’t take medications.

Medicare covers alcohol misuse screening and counseling. If you suspect a loved one may be misusing alcohol, Medicare might be able to help.

Open Enrollment ends soon! If you haven’t found your Medicare coverage for next year, head over to our Medicare center. There, you can compare plans and get all the info you need to make a decision.

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