Alcohol Use

Study Finds Older Americans Are Drinking More

As people age, they tend to grow more sensitive to alcohol’s effects on balance, attention, reaction time, and driving skills. In addition, people 65 and older generally are prescribed more medications, and the potential for adverse health effects from alcohol-medication interactions can increase. Such issues are an emerging public health concern underscored by a recent report that found Americans over age 60 are drinking more than they were twenty years ago.

Dr. Rosalind Breslow, in the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, and colleagues examined data from more than 145,000 responses to the National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2014. In addition to observing an increase in the number of older adults who consumed alcohol, the researchers found that the largest increase in the percentage of current drinkers was among women.

Twenty years ago, 37.8 percent of women reported being current drinkers; in 2014, the rate jumped to 47.5 percent. The rate of male current drinkers also increased, from 54 percent to 59.9 percent over two decades.

From 1997 to 2014, rates of binge drinking—defined for the purposes of this study as consuming five or more drinks in a single day—among older drinkers changed slightly, but not enough to be considered statistically significant. However, among older female drinkers, the prevalence of binge drinking increased from 4.9 percent to 7.5 percent, a significant increase. Among older male drinkers, the increase was not significant.

The findings spotlight the growing number of women in this age group who reported binge drinking, matching trends seen in separate studies among younger populations.

The authors concluded that these upward trends in drinking among adults ages 60 and over, particularly among women, suggest the importance of public health planning to meet future needs for alcohol-related programs for older adults who drink.

Courtesy of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Part of the National Institutes of Health, NIAAA leads the nation’s efforts on alcohol use disorders. Our director, Dr. George F. Koob, is a nationally recognized neuroscientist who provides leadership in the national effort to reduce the public health burden associated with alcohol misuse and oversees NIAAA’s broad portfolio of alcohol research ranging from basic science to epidemiology, diagnostics, prevention, and treatment.

For more information, visit the organization’s website.


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