Older Drinkers More Impaired by Moderate Alcohol Consumption

But Most Think They Are OK

Elderly Woman
Alcohol Affects Seniors Diferently. © Getty Images

If you are older than 50 and you have a couple of drinks when you go out to eat, you may want to take some extra time before getting into the car and driving home.

No one knows exactly why, but moderate amounts of alcohol impair older adults more than younger drinkers. It may be because alcohol is metabolized and removed from the body differently once you are older, but even moderate amounts of alcohol can cause measurable impairment for those over age 50.

Older Adults More Impaired

Although older adults become more impaired after drinking the same amount as younger drinkers, they do not perceive themselves to be impaired. Therefore, if you go to a social gathering and have a couple of drinks, you may think that you are OK to drive home, but you may be more impaired than you realize.

According to government studies, more than half of adults older than 55 drink socially. If those social drinkers are more impaired than they think they are, it can cause a significant threat to their health.

An Accident Can Change Your Life

People who are killed in alcohol-related accidents make headlines, but we seldom hear about the traffic crashes and accidents that merely injure or maim older adults, changing their quality of life for the rest of their years.

One study based at the University of Florida showed that adults aged 50 to 74 who drank the equivalent of two drinks took five seconds longer to complete a task than adults 25 to 35 who had the same amount to drink.

Meanwhile, adults in the same age groups who had no alcohol to drink completed the task in about the same time.

But the other important finding of the study was that the drinkers in both groups self-reported their estimated level of impairment about the same on a scale from 1 to 10, but the tests revealed that the older drinkers were significantly more impaired.

If You Drink, Take Your Time

Consequently, if you are over age 50 and have had a couple of drinks, you may be impaired to the point that it is unsafe for you to drive, even though you feel perfectly fine.

The authors of the Florida study suggest that you take a little extra time before getting in the car and driving home. "If you have a couple of drinks at dinner, sit around, have dessert — don't drive for a while," they suggested.


Gilbertson, R., et al. "Effects of Acute Alcohol Consumption in Older and Younger Adults: Perceived Impairment Versus Psychomotor Performance." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. March 2009

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