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Alcohol and Aging: Know the Facts




Did you know that as we get older, our bodies process alcohol more slowly and we become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol?

Why? Because alcohol is absorbed and distributed through the body’s total water content.

With age we tend to lose lean body mass, resulting in more body fat and less water in the body to dilute alcohol. The same amount of alcohol will produce a higher blood alcohol content, and greater impairment in an older person, than it does in a younger adult of the same weight.

As we age, we produce less of a critical enzyme that breaks down alcohol  which can elevate blood alcohol levels in older adults.

This decline places an extra burden on the liver - the main organ involved in processing alcohol. See the Canadian Liver Foundation website for information on Alcohol and the Liver.

Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines for Older Adults

What is a safe amount for seniors to drink? The amount that’s safe for you to drink will vary depending on your age, gender, ethnicity, weight, body fat, and health status.

If you’re an older adult and you choose to drink alcohol, Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (endorsed by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC) advise you to drink below limits suggested for adults in general. These limits for adults are:

  • No more than 10 drinks a week for women or 15 drinks a week for men
  • No more than 2 drinks a day most days for women or no more than 3 drinks a day most days for men
  • At occasional special events, drink no more than 3 drinks for women and 4 drinks for men
  • Older adults should drink below these limits

Always avoid alcohol when taking medication, or check with your doctor or pharmacist first.

The online Alcohol Reality Check can help you determine whether your drinking puts you at risk.

Alcohol can contribute to chronic diseases, including cancer and some heart conditions.

Last Updated: August 3, 2013