How to Spot Alcohol Dependency in Women Older Than 65

Signs of alcohol dependency are often overlooked in older women because the symptoms are also associated with aging and chronic health conditions. Adults over 65 binge drink more frequently than any other age group, yet only 4.2 percent of seniors reported discussing alcohol with their doctors.1 Conversations about alcohol can be difficult for care providers to initiate, but it’s a pivotal part of ensuring that women age happily and healthfully.

One standard drink: 2

  • Beer = 12 ounces
  • Malt liquor = 8 ounces
  • Wine = 5 ounces
  • Liquor = 1.5 ounces

Use the questions below from the World Health Organization to guide a discussion about alcohol consumption habits. Record the number associated with each answer and add all three numbers together at the end. 

  1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
    • (0) Never
    • (1) Monthly or less
    • (2) 2 to 4 times a month
    • (3) 2 to 3 times a week
    • (4) 4 or more times a week
  2. How many drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day when you are drinking?
    • (0) 1 or 2
    • (1) 3 or 4
    • (2) 5 or 6
    • (3) 7, 8, or 9
    • (4) 10 or more
  3. How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?
    • (0) Never
    • (1) Less than monthly
    • (2) Monthly
    • (3) Weekly
    • (4) Daily or almost daily

If the sum of the answers equals 7 or more, a sensitive, respectful conversation about consumption should follow.2

For women older than 65:

  • 2+ drinks per day can increase the risk of injuries from vehicle crashes, falls and illnesses like liver disease, heart disease and cancer.3
  • 4+ drinks per occasion is considered binge drinking.4
  • 7 drinks is the recommended limit per week.4

While overconsumption of alcohol is not always equivalent to alcoholism, it is still dangerous when underdiagnosed. To help bring awareness to a harmful habit, take time to talk to female patients, their caregivers and families about recommended alcohol intake.

[DISCLAIMER] Please note that this graphic is for informational purposes only. Individuals should consult their health care professionals before following any of the information provided. Nursing@USC does not endorse any organizations or websites contained in this post.


  1. McKnight-Eily LR, Liu Y, Brewer RD, et al. “Vital Signs: Communications Between Health Professionals and Their Patients About Alcohol Use — 44 states and the District of Columbia, 2011,” CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 2014. Pages 16-22.
  2. The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Accessed March 3, 2017.
  3. O’Keefe JH, Bhatti SK, Bajwa A, Dinicolantonio JJ, Lavie CJ. “Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health: The Dose Makes the Poison … or the Remedy,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2014, Pages 382-393.
  4. National Institute on Aging. “Alcohol Use in Older People,” 2012. Accessed March 7, 2017.

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