Alcohol and Medication Growing Older Can Alter the Way Substances Interact

As we age, the need to take more and different kinds of medications tends to increase. Also, growing older means that our bodies respond differently to alcohol and to medication than when we were younger.
You should be aware that some of your medicines won’t mix well with other medications, including over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies, and many medications do not mix well with alcohol.
Changes in body weight can influence the amount of medicine you need to take and how long it stays in your body. Body circulation may slow down, which can affect how quickly drugs get to the liver and kidneys. In addition, the liver and kidneys may work more slowly, which can affect how a drug breaks down and is eliminated from the body.
Due to these changes, medicine may remain in your body longer and create a greater chance of interaction. To guard against potential problems with medicines, become knowledgeable about your medication and how it makes you feel. You can take the following steps on your own:
• Read the labels of your medications carefully and follow the directions.
• Look for pictures or statements on your prescriptions and pill bottles that tell you not to drink alcohol while taking the particular medication. If you are taking medications for sleeping, pain, anxiety, or depression, it is unsafe to drink alcohol.
• One alcoholic drink per day is the recommended limit for anyone over the age of 65 who has not been diagnosed with a drinking problem. That’s 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or 5 ounces of wine.
• Talk to your healthcare professional about all the medicines you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and dietary supplements, vitamins, and herbals.
• Tell your doctor about any food or medicine allergies you have.
• Keep track of side effects, and let your doctor know immediately about any unexpected symptoms or changes in the way you feel.
• Go through your medicine cabinet at least once a year to get rid of old or expired medicines.
• Have all of your medicine reviewed by your doctor at least once a year.

Watch the Signs
Medicine and alcohol misuse can happen unintentionally. Here are some signals that may indicate an alcohol- or medication-related problem:
• Memory trouble after having a drink or taking medicine;
• Loss of coordination (such as walking unsteadily or frequent falls);
• Changes in sleeping habits;
• Unexplained bruises;
• Being unsure of yourself;
• Irritability, sadness, or depression;
• Changes in eating habits;
• Wanting to stay alone much of the time;
• Failing to bathe or keep clean;
• Having trouble finishing sentences;
• Having trouble concentrating;
• Difficulty staying in touch with family or friends;
• Lack of interest in usual activities; or
• Unexplained chronic pain.
Do you think you may be having trouble with alcohol or medications? Do you want to avoid a problem? Talk with your doctor or other healthcare professional. They can check for any problems you may be having and discuss treatment options with you.
Make sure you share the right information by making a list for your doctor of all your medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines as well as your dietary supplements and herbal preparations.
Remind your doctor or pharmacist about any previous conditions that might affect your ability to take certain medicines, such as allergies, a stroke, hypertension, serious heart disease, liver problems, or lung disease. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you want more information. Whenever possible, have your doctor or a member of the medical staff give you written advice or instructions.
You may also ask for advice from a staff member at a senior center or other program in which you participate, or share your concerns with a friend, family member, or spiritual adviser.

This article is a service of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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