Almost 11% of adults aged 65 and older reported binge drinking –
having more than five drinks for men and four for women – at least
once in the past month, in a nationally representative survey of
10,927 people in 2015-2017.
Binge drinking was more common among men, smokers, drug users and
people with chronic health problems or mental illness, researchers
report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Older adults are uniquely vulnerable to the health effects of binge
drinking, because excessive alcohol consumption can have dangerous
interactions with medications and worsen symptoms of health problems
like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, said Dr.
Benjamin Han, an assistant professor of geriatric medicine and
palliative care at New York University School of Medicine and lead
author of the study.
"Due to physiological changes related to aging, older adults will
have a higher blood alcohol level for a given amount of alcohol
intake and an increased sensitivity to alcohol," Han said by email.
"Furthermore, older adults tend to have more chronic medical
conditions and take more prescribed medications than younger adults,
and excess alcohol can worsen those conditions and interact with a
wide range of medications," Han added.
"The result is that older adults are much more vulnerable to the
health harms of binge drinking including injury such as falls
compared to younger people."
Alcohol use and problem drinking are on the rise among older adults,
the study team notes. From 2001 to 2013, the proportion of seniors
engaged in high-risk drinking surged 65% and the proportion with
alcohol use disorder more than doubled.
Most seniors in the study, 57%, said they hadn't had any alcohol at
all in the past month. Another 33% said they had used alcohol but
reported no binge drinking.
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Binge drinking was more common among affluent, educated and married
One-third of binge drinkers had at least a college degree; nearly
90% had graduated high school.
African-Americans were 44% more likely than white seniors to binge
drink, the study also found.
Smokers and cannabis users were 52% and 41%, respectively, more apt
to binge drink than their counterparts who didn't smoke or use
The study wasn't designed to determine what might cause binge
drinking, and it also didn't assess health outcomes associated with
excessive alcohol use.
It may be that some lifelong drinkers are surviving to older ages
than they might have in the past, boosting the proportion of seniors
who appear to be problem drinkers, said Dr. Gregory Marcus, a
cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of
California, San Francisco, who wasn't involved in the study.
"The behaviors of the group considered to be 'older adults' are
dynamic because the individuals comprising that group are of course
constantly changing," Marcus said by email. "It is just as likely
that individuals more prone to binge-drinking have reached this
older age rather than drinking patterns suddenly changing among
individuals when they hit 65."
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2LXbK6I Journal of the American Geriatrics
Society, online July 31, 2019.
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