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Survey Reveals Binge Drinking Among Older Adults

Published August 17, 2009 | Updated January 20, 2016

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Duke Health News919-660-1306

One of the largest surveys of substance use has found a
remarkable amount of binge-drinking among older Americans. The
findings, published in The American Journal of
Psychiatry
, were reported by researchers at Duke
University Medical Center.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 22
percent of men and 9 percent of women aged 50 to 64 reported
binge drinking -- five or more drinks at a time -- within the
last month. In this age group, "at-risk" drinking -- two or
more drinks per day -- was found among 19 percent of men and 13
percent of women.

The group aged 65 and up reported binge drinking in 14
percent of men and 3 percent of women. "At-risk" drinking was
found among 13 percent of men and eight percent of women in
this age group.

"A surprising number of older Americans are engaging in
drinking patterns that are putting their health at risk, yet
these problems often go unrecognized," said Dan G. Blazer MD,
PhD, the study's lead author and JP Gibbons Professor of
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke. "With this study
we've learned that adults, especially those in their fifties,
are carrying a heavier drinking burden into late life."

Blazer explained that this trend illustrates a potentially
greater problem in the future as the baby boomer generation
ages. He said that if their current drinking habits continue
into their senior years, they could be compounding health
problems that typically arise as the body's natural defenses
are weakened. The negative health effects of binge drinking can
range from minor injuries to more serious problems, such as
stroke, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, neurological
damage and poor diabetes control.

The authors propose a more rigorous use of screening for
substance use and brief intervention or counseling to address
the rise in alcohol use.

"Middle age and older adults may be easy to miss for at-risk
or binge drinking because most clinicians are focused on
excessive drinking behaviors among young people, such as those
in college," Blazer said. "They also don't show the typical
signs of alcohol dependence."

A nationally representative survey of nearly 11,000 men and
women over 50 asked about their use of alcohol over the last
year and the usual number of drinks they consumed on a drinking
day during the past 30 days. The survey was conducted in 2005
and 2006. Binge drinking and at-risk drinking were defined by
American Geriatrics Society Guidelines.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Overall 66 percent of men and 55 percent of women
    reported alcohol use during the past year.
  • Binge drinking was more common among those with a higher
    income and people who use tobacco and illicit drugs.
  • Caucasian (19 percent), African-American (21 percent) and
    Hispanic (25 percent) men had a higher prevalence of binge
    drinking than other ethnic groups (14 percent).
  • African-American women had a higher prevalence of binge
    drinking relative to Caucasian women (10 percent vs. 6
    percent).
  • Being separated, divorced or widowed was associated with
    at-risk and binge drinking among men. Non-medical use of
    prescription drugs was associated with binge drinking in
    women.

The research was supported by a grant from the National
Institute on Drug Abuse. Li-Tzy Wu is the study's
co-author.

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