Seniors, Alcohol, and Sea Cruises.

Some older adults will have the pleasure and good fortune to be travelling on a cruise. People (including "moderate drinkers") may find that their alcohol consumption increases during this time. There are several reasons this may happen:

o they are socializing with others some of whom are strangers - for some shy people meeting and talking with strangers can feel extremely overwhelming ("social phobia");

o less constraints: "it's special, besides we are on holidays";

o drinking may be part of special events being celebrated on board- wedding anniversaries, birthdays;

o the ship celebrations- mariners' society for return travelers;

o ships' crews offering a free glass of wine for missing a port of call because of inclement weather;

o a specific shipboard activity -- e.g. joining a wine tasting group;

o some people just find the physical environment of the ship rather complex to get around; also going into new seaports and airport terminals means a constantly changing environment and that can be anxiety provoking for some.

For others, the fact they are with in close quarters with their spouse or family might lead to an increase in drinking. Traveling and living with a spouse, family or a close friend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a cruise is  the equivalent to 168 hours or 10,080 minutes of togetherness. Closeness can be strengthening or it can be straining, depending on what the relationship was like prior to the trip.


Harm Reduction

If a person has been experiencing a problem with alcohol, it can be helpful to work with them in advance of the cruise to identify what are some  of their trigger points and to work on relapse management  (thinking  and planning ahead of time, "What will you if..."). This can help take much of the anxiety out of the situation, because the person knows he or she is capable of coping.

Some other helpful strategies include

- Helping an older adult who is traveling on a cruise  to rehearse things to politely say to others:

- Encourage the person to bring their patience and sense of humour along on the trip.

- Find ways of being able to have "time away" from others if all the togetherness feels a bit too much. (Why do you think so many people bring books on board).

Some cruise ships will have regular (e.g. once-a-day Friends of Bill W.) meetings for those who find the AA approach supportive.


Alcohol and Motion Sickness Medications

Motion sickness can occur even on today's cruise ships.  Drinking alcohol or taking tranquilizers is not good combined with motion sickness medications (dimenhydrinate: common examples include Gravol (TM) or SeaCalm (TM)).  Alcohol  and other central nervous system depressant drugs intensify the sedative effect of the sea sickness medication. The print is so small on the little packets of medication provided at the front desk of the cruise ship,  that many people don't learn this til after the fact).  It is also not indicated for people who are hypersensitive to narcotics.  According to the 2001 Mosby's Nursing Drug Reference, there are important precautions in using this drug if you are an older adult, or have:

If you take this medication, avoid hazardous activities requiring alertness (e.g. parasailing). You may need some help when walking. Avoid alcohol and other depressants.



Page first posted December 23, 2003; last updated 02/11/2004. Questions about this page or site? Contact Webmaster: (c) 2003 Seeking Solutions


This is document has been prepared for the national project: Seeking Solutions: Canadian Community Action on Seniors and Alcohol Issues, an initiative funded through Health Canada, National Population Health Project. Our many thanks to Health Canada for making this possible. The views expressed in the document are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Health Canada.




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