Retiring to Excessive Drinking

Alcohol intake by many seniors exceeded health recommendations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As people enter their senior years, they may not drink quite as much as they did in their wild and crazy youth. But many seniors still may drink more than they should, when it comes to their health.

In a recently published long-term study, researchers asked older people about their alcohol intake every four years for 23 years.

The results of the study showed that roughly one out of every three older adults drank more alcohol than they should according to health guidelines.

"Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink."

Linda K. McEvoy, PhD, from the Department of Radiology at the University of California, San Diego, led this investigation into the health and habits of older adult drinkers.

According to the authors, the way the body processes alcohol changes as a person ages. The same amount of alcohol yields higher alcohol concentration in the blood of older adults compared with younger adults.

“[O]lder adults are at higher risk than younger adults of harmful effects from alcohol,” the study authors wrote.

For this study, the researchers followed 1,076 men and women, ages 50 to 89, who were involved with the ongoing Rancho Bernardo Study (RBS).

The participants were recruited into the study from 1984 to 1987, and were examined during clinical visits every four years through 2007 to 2009.

During the clinical visits, the researchers asked the participants about their drinking habits and any long-term diseases.

Overall, 76 percent of women and 83 percent of men reported that they drank alcohol.

Over 60 percent of participants said they consumed alcohol on a weekly basis.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women of any age should not have more than one drink per day. Men younger than 65 should have no more than two drinks per day, and men 65 and older should have no more than one drink per day.

At the start of the study, 38 percent of the participants drank more alcohol than low-risk health guidelines recommend for safe drinking.

By the end of the study, 29 percent of the participants drank more alcohol than low-risk health guidelines recommend for safe drinking.

Among those drinkers, 28 percent had high blood pressure, 31 percent had diabetes and 28 percent had three or more long-term diseases.

As people got older over the course of the study, alcohol intake decreased. Neither marital status nor education appeared to influence alcohol intake.

The presence of long-term illness did not appear to influence whether or not individuals chose to drink more than the low-risk guidelines recommended.

The researchers noted that drinking too much can cause health risks, and drinking more than the low-risk guidelines could cause serious health problems for people with long-term conditions.

The study authors recommended that healthcare providers counsel older patients on the importance of moderating alcohol intake, especially for patients with long-term medical conditions.

This study was published in September in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research, the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Review Date: 
October 1, 2013
Last Updated:
October 2, 2013