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Drinking And The Elderly: A Growing Problem

January 29, 2010
New research on drinking among older adults, published in the April 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, has found that older adults who have more money, engage in more social activities and have friends who approve more of drinking are more likely to engage in excessive or high-risk drinking, defined as more than three drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week. "Ours is one of the first studies to focus longitudinally on high-risk drinking among older adults," said Rudolf H. Moos, senior research career scientist for the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Palo Alto, California and corresponding author for the study, "and the first to have 10-year and 20-year follow-ups addressing this issue." Moos and his colleagues examined 399 men and 320 women ages 55 to 65 at the start and then again 10 and 20 years later. At each contact point, participants provided information regarding their drinking, as well as their social and financial resources. "Older adults who engage in high-risk alcohol consumption tend to select friends who are more likely to drink and to approve of drinking," said Moos. "They may also experience a decline in the quality of relationships with extended family members, that is, high-risk drinking may impair some family relationships. Compared to older women, older men may be more vulnerable or susceptible to some social influences on drinking. Specifically, having more money and friends who approve more of drinking seem to be more closely related to high-risk drinking among older men than among older women.” The research found that a spouse and friends can make a constructive difference in later life drinking; however, they can also unwittingly become caught up as facilitators in the process of later life drinking. The findings also encourage family members to be aware that alcohol misuse doesn’t go away with aging. Although consumption declines, at the 20-year follow-up more than 20 percent of adults aged 75 to 85 still engaged in high-risk alcohol consumption. "This information can be used to teach older adults, and family members and friends who care about and have some responsibility for them, about how to avoid or minimize 'triggers,' such as specific social activities or interactions with friends associated with heavy drinking," said Moos. For more information, read our article on substance abuse at //