picture of male senior Alcohol And Seniors

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How Common are Alcohol Problems

Among Seniors?



It is estimated that 6-10% of seniors have alcohol or other substance abuse problems such as abuse of prescribed medications (1). That translates to between 29,200 to 48,000 seniors in B.C. and 216,000 to 360,000 seniors across Canada.
Among certain groups of seniors, the percentage is significantly higher. For example, rates are higher among widowers and individuals with medical problems and those in difficulty with the police.(2) It has been estimated that 10-18% of general medical inpatients and 44 % of psychiatric inpatients misuse alcohol.(3)
A 1988 study, based on Winnipeg hospital statistics, indicated that 27% of seniors admitted to acute care hospitals because of alcohol abuse and the figures is higher if medications are included.(4) An American report issued in 1992 contained estimates suggesting that 70% of older adult hospitalizations in 1991 were for alcohol related problems, compared to 25% among hospitalized persons of all ages.(5)
Although historically, alcohol misuse or abuse among seniors has tended to be treated as a "male problem", the number of older women needing and coming to treatment for alcohol or alcohol- prescription drug problems has significantly increased over the last few years.
In the future, alcohol abuse among seniors will become an increasing problem. Part of this is simply due to the fact that people are living longer and there are more seniors. In 1991, there were 3.170 million Canadians aged 65 and over, a rise of 35% since 1971. It is projected that there will be a further increase of 27% by 2001 and 57% by 2011. By that time there will be 4.981 million seniors in Canada.(6)



  1. Friesen, K. (1985) "Seniors with alcohol related problems in British Columbia: assessing and planning for their needs" UBC Health Services Planning and Administration. The report places the prevalence at 4.5-10%.
  2. Schuckit, M.A. (1977) "Geriatric alcoholism and drug abuse" Gerontologist 17: 168-174.
  3. Supra, n. 13. at 15.
  4. Grymonpre, R., Mitenko, P. Sitar, D., Aoki, F. & Montgomery, P. (1988) " Drug associated hospital admissions in older medical patients. J. of the Amer. Geriatrics Soc. 36 1092-1098
  5. U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging (1992) Alcohol Abuse and Misuse Among the Elderly (Comm. Pub. No. 102-852) Washington, D.C.: U.S. Gov’t Printing Office.
  6. For 1991: Statistics Canada. Age, Sex and Marital Status. Catalogue 93-310, July, 1992. For 2001 and 2011: Statistics Canada. Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories, 1993-2016. Catalogue 91-520. December 1994, Table A3, Projection 2.


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