ATTITUDES toward alcoholism and the elderly on the part of the patient, the physician, and the family can be formidable obstacles to identification, diagnosis, and treatment. Differentiating between alcoholism and other psychiatric disorders is often required because of the frequent occurrence of the latter in elderly problem drinkers, particularly those who are hospitalized. The medical consequences of prolonged or heavy alcohol use can be severe in the older patient and often require immediate attention and acute care. Physicians need to become more active in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems in the elderly.
In 1979, the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Scientific Affairs endorsed guidelines for the treatment of alcoholism and urged physicians to equip themselves at least to make a diagnosis and refer alcoholic patients for treatment.1 In the nearly two decades since then, physicians have become increasingly aware that alcoholism is a