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Experts say more seniors are abusing alcohol

May 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
They're embarrassed, ashamed and many don't feel comfortable asking for help. Experts say more seniors are turning to the bottle to relieve feelings of loneliness and frustration. As many as 17-percent of those over 65 have an alcohol problem, and in many cases, no one ever acknowledges it. Now one program is trying to bring a dark problem to light. Eighty-year-old Elise Harbin lives, shops, and eats alone. No one was around to notice she's an alcoholic.

"It had almost made me die without realizing that I had a problem," said Harbin, who is now a recovering alcoholic.

Harbin isn't alone. More than three million people over age 60 abuse alcohol. These seniors find help.

"We have so much in common from the old days," said Maureen Coglin, a recovering alcoholic.

It's Never Too Late is one of the few programs in the country where members have to meet an age minimum.

"You're going to be in a group with other people who have gray hair. Some have blue hair. Some people have no hair, you know," said Richard Koffler, Queens Hospital Center. "You are going to fit right in."

Members say it's easier to talk, listen and relate when they're surrounded by their peers.

"You're not necessarily stuck in a room with you know, in my case, teenagers who I might be talking about the disco days," said Kathy Kohl, a recovering alcoholic. "They're going to have no clue what I'm talking about."

One-third of older addicts pick up the dangerous habit later in life, and one study found nearly two-thirds are misdiagnosed. That's because many of the signs of drinking mirror signs of aging -- aches and pains, insomnia, depression, frequent falls and memory loss.

"All of a sudden, I noticed that I was tipsy all the time," said Coglin.

The program didn't just help 70-year-old Maureen Coglin get sober it saved her life.

"Thank God. They saved my life," said Coglin.

Many seniors are learning that starting over can happen at any age.

While more men than women are affected by alcoholism, women are more likely to start heavy drinking later in life.