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Drinking alcohol can be bad for your health - especially for older adults. Alcohol can cause or exacerbate health problems as we age.

April 29, 2024

By Chelo Belmonte, DO
WellMed at NW 410
San Antonio, Texas

Most people know that drinking alcohol can be bad for their health, but the risk is especially high for older adults. There are many reasons alcohol can cause a host of health problems.

One man became a patient of mine when his ex-wife brought him to see me, concerned about his alcohol use.

When I first started seeing him, he was experiencing memory problems and nerve damage. In addition, he was so unsteady from the effects of drinking, he kept falling.

Over time, I educated him about the harmful effects of alcohol on his health, including the role it played in his medical conditions, and he began cutting back. He really turned his health around and is proud of the progress he’s made.

This is a dramatic example of the effects of alcohol on older adults. Yet, as I already noted, there are good reasons that even the lightest drinker should be cautious.

Older adults often take several medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, which may not mix well with alcohol.

For example, if a medication makes you sleepy, alcohol may magnify the effect. That is why it is so important to let your doctor know if you drink alcohol, and if so, how much.

Medications that are risky to mix with alcohol include:

  • Anxiety or depression medication
  • Aspirin
  • Prescription pain medicines
  • Over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen
  • Cold and allergy medicines
  • Cough syrup
  • Sleeping pills


Another risk factor is drinking alcohol can cause or exacerbate health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and stomach problems, and increase the chance of developing many types of cancer.

Alcohol may also:

  • Weaken the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick.
  • Cause dizziness or a feeling of being off balance, which can result in a fall.
  • Cause or increase memory problems, including dementia.
  • Compound mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Cause or increase the chance of developing an alcohol addiction or a dependence.

As people age, their tolerance for alcohol may diminish, leading them to feel the effects more quickly and intensely than do younger adults. Among other problems, this may increase the risk of falling at a time when their bones are thinning and can break more easily.[i]

Patients should be open with their physicians about their drinking. Don’t worry about being judged; your doctor is concerned only with the complete picture of your overall health and ensuring you get the right care. A good relationship between physician and patient involves honesty and trust.

Family members concerned about a loved one’s drinking may also approach their primary care doctor to share their concerns, as my patient’s ex-wife did. Older patients are often more open to suggestions from their physicians, who can serve as objective third parties.

The best choice is to avoid drinking alcohol, but for those who do drink, following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans of no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink or less per day for women can help reduce the risks linked to alcohol consumption.[ii]

[i] Older Adults | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (

[ii] Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025

Dr. Chelo Belmonte received her bachelor’s degree and graduated magna cum laude from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She earned her medical degree from Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada. Dr. Belmonte is board certified in family medicine and a member of the American Osteopathic Association. Dr. Belmonte is committed to changing the face of health care delivery for seniors by focusing on preventive medicine. This means delivering more personalized medical care and providing you with the preventive tools you need to improve your health and well-being.

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