More than a tenth of U.S. adults 65 and older binge drink, putting them at risk for a range of health problems, according to a new study.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, also finds certain factors, including using cannabis and being male, are associated with an increase in binge drinking.
Binge drinking is a risky behavior, particularly for older adults, due to aging-related physical changes, such as the increased risk of falling, and the likelihood of chronic health issues, said researchers at the New York University School of Medicine and the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at NYU College of Global Public Health.
“Binge drinking, even episodically or infrequently, may negatively affect other health conditions by exacerbating disease, interacting with prescribed medications, and complicating disease management,” said Benjamin Han, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care, and the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health.
For the study, the researchers examined data from 10,927 U.S. adults age 65 and older who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017.
They looked at the prevalence of binge drinking in the past month, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as five drinks or more on the same occasion for men and four drinks or more for women.
Researchers also compared demographic and health factors of past-month binge drinkers with people who drank within the past month, but below the binge drinking threshold.
The researchers estimate that 10.6 percent of older adults binge drank in the past month. 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 percent and 9 percent, they reported.
Binge drinkers were more likely to be male, current tobacco and/or cannabis users, African American, and have less than a high school education, the researchers discovered. They were also more likely to visit the emergency room in the past year.
Similar to previous studies, this study did not find a link between binge drinking and other mental health disorders.
“The association of binge drinking with cannabis use has important health implications,” said CDUHR researcher Joseph Palamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s senior author. “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.” Palamar is an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health.
The researchers also examined the chronic disease profiles of older binge drinkers.
“Binge drinkers were less likely to have most chronic diseases compared to alcohol users who did not binge drink. This may be because some people stop or decrease their drinking when they have an illness or alcohol-related disease,” said Han.
“Clinicians must be aware that some older adults with chronic disease still engage in binge drinking behaviors, which can worsen their health issues. This may explain why binge drinkers were more likely to report visits to the emergency room.”
The most common chronic diseases among binge drinkers was hypertension (41.4 percent), followed by cardiovascular disease (23.1 percent) and diabetes (17.7 percent).
The researchers note that while the study uses the NIAAA’s recommended threshold for binge drinking, the same organization also suggests lower drinking limits for adults over 65 — no more than three drinks a day. Since the current analysis used the higher cutoff for binge drinking, the study may underestimate the prevalence of binge drinking among older adults, the researchers said.
“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.
Source: New York University