If you drank alcohol throughout most of your life, you may wonder if you can develop alcohol intolerance later in life. It may seem strange to think that a beverage you drank for years without a problem could suddenly cause issues, but it’s possible. As you age and your body changes, the way you respond to alcohol also changes. Therefore, you can develop alcohol intolerance with age, even if you never had problems previously. Since about 40% of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol, it is important to understand the age-related risks of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Sensitivity and Age

Alcohol sensitivity can develop with age. Older adults tend to get drunk quicker than younger adults because their alcohol tolerance decreases. The reason for this decrease is due to a couple of natural changes the body goes through:

  • More body fat: As you age, you lose muscle and water, and gain body fat. A higher blood alcohol level when you drink is the result of this change in your body’s composition.
  • Changes in your liver: Liver functionality declines with age. The liver is unable to break down alcohol as fast as it could when you were younger. Therefore, alcohol stays in your system longer than it used to.

Additionally, older adults tend to have more problems with their balance and reflexes. Alcohol consumption presents a higher risk of falls due to intoxication. For this reason, doctors recommend that older adults have no more than three drinks in one day, and no more than seven drinks in one week.

The types of medications consumed can also affect tolerance. Some prescriptions advise against consuming alcohol alongside the medicine to avoid intensifying the effects of the substances. Because older adults typically take more medication than younger adults do, the chance of experiencing medication-enhanced alcohol effects increases with age.

Alcohol and Medications

Roughly 30% of adults ages 65 and older take five or more medications. Therefore, there is an increased potential for alcohol to interact with the drugs they take. Common types of drugs that can interact with alcohol include:

  • Aspirin and blood thinners: Because they thin your blood, these drugs make it easier for your body to bleed. Alcohol consumption compounds the risk of bleeding. Studies showed there is an increase in major bleeding in your stomach and intestines with alcohol and aspirin use.
  • Allergy or cold medicine: Many over-the-counter allergy or cold medication have antihistamines in them to help you sleep. These kinds of drugs can make you dangerously sedated if combined with alcohol.
  • Sleeping medicine: Because alcohol acts as a depressant in your brain, taking it along with sleeping medicine can leave you dangerously sedated.
  • Pain medicine: Alcohol can interact with over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen. Alcohol can also be very dangerous when used with strong prescription pain medicines.
  • Mood medicine, especially drugs for anxiety or depression: Alcohol can worsen side effects for many mood medicines.

As you get older, alcohol may worsen some of the health problems you already have. Regularly consuming alcohol increases the risk of developing new health problems too.

Health Problems From Drinking Later in Life

Besides being unable to tolerate as much alcohol as you could when you were younger, there can be other health-related problems with drinking alcohol later in life. These health problems include:

  • Cancer: According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 3.5% of cancer deaths are linked to alcohol use. Liver cancer and cancer of the esophagus are known to be caused by alcohol. Doctors think that alcohol can cause these cancers because toxic byproducts are produced when the body breaks down alcohol. Alcohol can also prevent the body from absorbing some healthy, cancer-fighting nutrients.
  • Harm to the organs in your body: Alcohol can directly damage the lungs, the bones, the liver, the brain, the heart and the pancreas.
  • A less-active immune system: Alcohol is known to harm the immune system. A weak immune system puts you at risk of problems like infections and injuries that are slow to heal.
  • Memory problems: Alcohol use can cause memory problems and may be a risk factor for dementia. Studies showed this risk is especially true if you are a heavy drinker.
  • Falls and potential fractures: Too much alcohol can worsen balance and cause falls. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, alcohol is a factor in 60% of falls. Since older adults have thinner bones than young people do, they are at much higher risk of sustaining an injury or bone fracture. In fact, hip fracture rates are known to increase with alcohol use.

Key Points: Alcohol Intolerance Later in Life

It’s important to understand how alcohol consumption can affect a person later in life. Key points to know about alcohol and aging include:

  • As you age, your body changes and does not process alcohol as well as when you were younger
  • Older adults are more likely to be on multiple drugs, many of which can interact with alcohol negatively and create additional health risks
  • Taking Asprin thins the blood, as does alcohol consumption. Those factors combined with older adults having thinner skin and their increased likelihood of falling can result in massive blood loss.
  • Alcohol use later in life can also lead to a higher risk of physical injury like hip fractures
  • Researchers believe that alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of developing certain types of cancer

If you or a loved one are struggling to stop drinking, treatment is available. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn how personalized treatment programs help patients address their addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Representatives are ready to help you begin a healthier lifestyle today.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Older Adults.” Accessed April 19, 2019.

Kim Jennifer, Parish Abby. “Polypharmacy and Medication Management in Older Adults.” The Nursing Clinics of North America, September 2017. Accessed April 19, 2019.

Kaufman DW, Kelly JP, et al. “The risk of acute major upper gastrointestinal bleeding among users of aspirin and ibuprofen at various levels of alcohol consumption.” American Journal of Gastroenterology, November 1999. Accessed April 19, 2019.

National Cancer Institute. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” September 13, 2018. Accessed April 19, 2019.

National Institute on Aging. “Facts About Aging and Alcohol.” May 16, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2019.

Sarkar Dipak, Jung M Katherine, et al. “Alcohol and the Immune System.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 2015. Accessed April 19, 2019.

Topiwala Anya, Allan Charlotte, et al. “Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study.” June 6, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2019.