Binge drinking ranks high among older adults, research shows

Binge drinking, the practice of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a single session, is surprisingly common in adults age 65 and older: 1 in 10 binge drink once a month, putting them at risk for a wide range of health problems, according to new research.

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Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and AlcoholismExternal defines binge drinking as drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. This commonly means 5 drinks for men and 4 for women over the course of 2 hours.

“Binge drinking, even episodically or infrequently, may negatively affect other health conditions by exacerbating disease, interacting with prescribed medications, and complicating disease management,” Benjamin Han, MD, the study’s lead author, said.

Binge drinkers were more likely to be male, current tobacco and/or cannabis users, African American, and have less than high school education. They were also more likely to visit the emergency room in the past year.

Particularly for older adults, binge drinking is considered a risky practice because of aging-related physical changes, such as an increased risk of falling, and the likelihood of having chronic health issues. Nevertheless, research hasn’t been much focused on binge drinking among older adults.

Han and the research team examined data from US adults age 65 and older to determine the current prevalence and factors that may increase the risk of binge drinking. They looked at the prevalence of current binge alcohol use and compared demographic and health factors of binge drinkers with people who drank less.

The results showed 10.6% older adults have binge drank in the past month–an increase compared to earlier studies. In the decade leading up to the data used in this study (2005-2014), binge drinking among adults 65 and older was between 7.7 and 9%.

The study, also found that factors such as using cannabis can be associated with an increase in binge drinking in older adults.

“The association of binge drinking with cannabis use has important health implications. Using both may lead to higher impairment effects. This is particularly important as cannabis use is becoming more prevalent among older adults, and older adults may not be aware of the possible dangers of using cannabis with alcohol,” said researcher Joseph Palamar, the study’s senior author.

The study also revealed that binge drinkers had a lower prevalence of two or more chronic diseases compared to non-binge drinkers. The most common chronic disease among them was hypertension (41.4%), followed by cardiovascular disease (23.1%) and diabetes (17.7%).

“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,” said Han.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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