Binge drinking trends among senior citizens between 2015 and 2017

Binge drinking is a widely studied phenomenon among young college goers and adults, and data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that binge drinking is associated with 88,000 deaths in the United States annually.

Now, a new study has been published which focuses on binge drinking behavior among senior citizens and has revealed some interesting facts. The research was published this week in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and is titled, “Binge Drinking Among Older Adults in the United States, 2015 to 2017.”

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The researchers looked at 10,927 adults over the age of 65 years and asked them about their alcohol use over the month prior to the survey. The survey was conducted between 2015 and 2017. The data was gathered from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Results showed that one in ten or around 10.6 percent of the older adults were binge drinking and this was posing a serious risk to their health.

The researchers explained that excessive alcohol consumption also known as binge drinking could be one of the risky behaviors seen among older adults. Long-term, binge drinking may increase the risk of age-related diseases.

For the study, the team defined binge or excessive drinking as five drinks or more for men and four drinks or more for women consumed within a time frame of two hours. This is in line with the definition put forth by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Binge drinking, even episodically or infrequently, may negatively affect other health conditions by exacerbating disease, interacting with prescribed medications, and complicating disease management.”

Dr. Benjamin Han, Lead Author

Marijuana and alcohol use is on the rise among older adults

The results of the study reveal that older adults who drink excessively are more at risk of long-term diseases such as high blood pressure (seen among 41.4 percent of the responders) and heart disease (seen among 23.1 percent of responders). Diabetes incidence among binge drinkers was found to be 17.7 percent wrote the researchers.

Our results underscore the importance of educating, screening, and intervening to prevent alcohol-related harms in older adults, who may not be aware of their heightened risk for injuries and how alcohol can exacerbate chronic diseases.”

Dr. Benjamin Han, Lead Author

The study researchers further revealed that male participants who commonly engaged in cannabis use were at a greater risk of binge drinking. This is particularly dangerous, as mixing cannabis with excessive amounts of alcohol increases the risk of health conditions significantly compared to when either substance is used in isolation.

The researchers also found that marijuana use among older adults is also on the rise and these persons are at a greater risk to their health if they use the substance frequently. Alcohol and marijuana combined is can impair the senses and cognitive functions.

Binge drinking was found to be higher among non‐Hispanic African Americans wrote the researchers, compared to Caucasians. It was also higher among tobacco users, cannabis users and persons who had had to visit the Emergency Department of a hospital in the year prior to the survey.

The authors of the study concluded:

Over a tenth of older adults in the United States are estimated to be current binge drinkers. Results confirm the importance of screening for binge drinking behaviours among older adults to minimize harms.”

Looking at the numbers for 2004 to 2014

Last year, Dr. Benjamin Han and his team published another study looking at binge drinking behaviour among older adults (over the age of 50 years) between 2005 and 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The study was titled, “Prevalence and correlates of binge drinking among older adults with multimorbidity.”

In this study, the team had looked at a month of binge alcohol use and risk of health conditions among older adults from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2005 to 2014.

The participants were asked whether they suffered from 13 disease conditions or medical conditions and if they had more than one disease condition. Having more than one medical condition was defined as co- or multi-morbidity.

Results revealed that 14.4 percent of older adults reported past-month binge drinking. They also found that binge drinkers were more likely to use tobacco and other illegal substances of abuse compared to those who did not binge drink.

Binge drinkers were less likely to suffer from more than one condition. This could be explained by the fact that those with more than one medical condition were less likely to indulge in binge drinking.

The authors concluded:

Current use of tobacco and substance use disorder were associated with an increased risk for binge drinking among older adults with multimorbidity. Binge drinking by older adults with multimorbidity may pose significant health risks especially with the concurrent use of other substances.”

Journal references:
Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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