Alcohol use disorders in the elderly: a brief overview from epidemiology to treatment options

Exp Gerontol. 2012 Jun;47(6):411-6. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2012.03.019. Epub 2012 Apr 10.


Alcohol-use-disorders (AUDs) afflict 1-3% of elderly subjects. The CAGE, SMAST-G, and AUDIT are the most common and validated questionnaires used to identify AUDs in the elderly, and some laboratory markers of alcohol abuse (AST, GGT, MCV, and CDT) may also be helpful. In particular, the sensitivity of MCV or GGT in detecting alcohol misuse is higher in older than in younger populations. The incidence of medical and neurological complications during alcohol withdrawal syndrome in elderly alcoholics is higher than in younger alcoholics. Chronic alcohol abuse is associated with tissue damage to several organs. Namely, an increased level of blood pressure is more frequent in the elderly than in younger adults, and a greater vulnerability to the onset of alcoholic liver disease, and an increasing risk of breast cancer in menopausal women have been described. In addition, the prevalence of dementia in elderly alcoholics is almost 5 times higher than in non-alcoholic elderly individuals, approximately 25% of elderly patients with dementia also present AUDs, and almost 20% of individuals aged 65 and over with a diagnosis of depression have a co-occurring AUD. Moreover, prevention of drinking relapse in older alcoholics is, in some cases, better than in younger patients; indeed, more than 20% of treated elderly alcohol-dependent patients remain abstinent after 4 years. Considering that the incidence of AUDs in the elderly is fairly high, and AUDs in the elderly are still underestimated, more studies in the fields of epidemiology, prevention and pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatment of AUDs in the elderly are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / therapy
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Humans


  • Biomarkers