Not everyone who drinks regularly is an alcoholic or has a drinking problem. But substance abuse is a major problem within the older population. It is not always obvious, because many older adults drink in private rather than in bars. Because our culture generally identifies problems with alcohol as a moral issue, it can be difficult to have a productive conversation that supports discussion and healing. Here is some important information about alcoholism, risk factors for continued use, and ways seniors can work towards diminishing alcohol consumption.

If you are worried about your alcohol consumption, this might be a good time to think about cutting down on the amount you drink.

A recent article by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggested that "some of the detrimental effects of heavy alcohol use on brain function are similar to those observed with Alzheimer's disease." Dementia secondary to alcohol use is the third most common dementia. Alcoholism is associated with extensive cognitive problems. Because of alcohol's effects on cognition and brain chemistry, it is likely that alcohol use will increase an individual's risk of developing dementia. In addition, a research project by the American Stroke Association compared older adults who drank with those who abstained, finding that drinking alcohol, even infrequently, increased the risk of a stroke.

According to the National Institute on Aging, you might want to get help if you:

Drink to calm your nerves or to forget your worries
Use alcohol to reduce depression and anxiety
Lose interest in food
Gulp your drinks down fast
Lie or try to hide your drinking habits
Drink alone on a regular basis
Use alcohol in tandem with pain medications
Experience memory problems
Hurt yourself, or someone else, while drinking
Were drunk more than three or four times last year
Need more alcohol to get "high"
Drink to feel normal
Feel irritable, resentful, or unreasonable when you are not drinking
Have medical, social, or financial problems caused by drinking.
Retirement can challenge feelings of self-worth and stimulate identity issues. The death of a loved one, poor health or loneliness can cause depression. People generally drink to change the way they feel in order to numb the emotional pain. Unfortunately, this way of coping becomes a problem.

Our experience is that while total abstinence is an excellent goal and is oftentimes touted as the most successful way to stop drinking, it might not be the best way to begin your own road to recovery. You might consider Harm Reduction, an approach which encourages you to develop a schedule to slowly taper down your alcohol consumption.

We understand that recovery looks different for everybody, so developing a list of reasons to decrease your alcohol consumption might be helpful. If you feel uncomfortable letting friends or family know that alcohol causes problems for you, you could consider telling people you are tapering down your alcohol consumption in order to lose weight.

Other ways to decrease your alcohol consumption include:

developing the ability to say no
joining a supportive peer community
finding a mentor
participating in a community of faith
getting screened for depression
having a discussion with your doctor about anti-craving medications
examining false beliefs which give rise to a desire to drink.

My sense is that recovery is a choice. It starts with a willingness to try and develop a willingness and an attitude that supports sobriety. Begin today by taking steps to work towards becoming a non-drinker.

Author's Bio: 

Todd Branston has been working in the field of addictions for over 27 years, within the inpatient and outpatient settings, as well as working in the Department of Corrections, the Director of Counseling for a large chemical dependency hospital, to where he's currently employed doing in-home chemical dependency engagement with (mostly) seniors. He is part of an experts forum on chemical dependency, and has a contract gig running the chemical dependency program for a long-term transitional program to support people to overcome homelessness. He currently runs a weekly podcast on addiction and mental health. His sense is that sobriety is a skill and that recovery looks different for everybody.