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Alcohol Use Among Older Adults Increasing During COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 12:40pm
Updated: Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 3:18pm

Over the course of the last year, alcohol consumption is up. Some people use it to cope with anxiety or stress. This is especially true among some older adults. 

Sunshine Dean is with Spectrum Healthcare Group, which provides outpatient behavioral and physical healthcare in Yavapai and Maricopa counties.

"I would say in older adults — and across all ages — we're seeing a dramatic increase in alcohol and substance abuse as a whole," Dean said. 

And more often than not, Dean says they’re coming to Spectrum after experiencing a behavioral health episode.

"The elderly population is in a position through this pandemic, where they are very scared, they're high risk," she said. "And because of that, we're seeing a tremendous amount of isolation. And isolation, of course, leads to loneliness, boredom, you know, feelings of helplessness. And I think that that's driving them to any measure of comfort. And sometimes, unfortunately, that's a negative measure, which is in the form of alcohol use."

As well as methamphetamines and marijuana, she says. But this isn’t necessarily a new problem. COVID-19 just exacerbated it. Dr. George Koob is the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health. 

"And there is historically always been individuals in this cohort that drink for boredom, drink for loneliness," he said.

In fact, he says over the past 20 years there’s been an uptick of alcohol use among older adults. 

Dean says one way her organization is trying to get ahead of the increase in behavioral health episodes is by talking to patients about their mental well-being when they visit one of Spectrum's primary care clinics. 

"And so we're capturing a lot of people who would otherwise not mention the depression, anxiety, isolation, feelings they're experiencing, and connecting them with services in real time," Dean said. 

Dean says talking about a person's mental health should be a routine part of the conversation, especially because there is so much stigma attached to behavioral health services among this population. 

Coronavirus Aging