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Heavy Drinking Into Older Age Linked to Greater Risk of Stroke, Larger Waistline

More than half of drinkers ages 59 and older had been heavy drinkers at some point in their lifetime, and this is linked to significantly larger waistlines and an increased risk of stroke, according to a new study U.K. study published in the journal Addiction.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) examined the link between heavy drinking over a lifetime and a range of health indicators, such as cardiovascular disease.

The team looked at data from the Whitehall II study, which collected information from U.K. civil servants, ages 34 to 56 years at study outset, from 1985 to 1988. The final sample for this study consisted of 4,820 older adults, 59 to 83 years. The mean (average) age was 69, and 75% were male.

Overall, the researchers found that heavy alcohol consumption over a lifetime is linked to higher blood pressure, poorer liver function, increased stroke risk, larger waist circumferences and body mass index (BMI) in later life, even if the participants quit drinking heavily before age 50. However, stopping heavy drinking at any point in life is likely to be beneficial for overall health.

“Alcohol misuse, despite the common perception of young people binge drinking, is common among older adults, with alcohol related hospital admissions in England being the highest among adults aged over 50,” said Dr. Linda Ng Fat (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), first author on the study.

“Previous studies have focused on single snapshots of consumption, which has the potential to mask the cumulative effects of drinking. This study raises awareness of the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course.”

A heavy drinker was identified using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test for Consumption (AUDIT-C), a standard screening tool for GPs. The screening tool consists of just three questions, and assesses how often you drink, how much you drink, and how often you binge (have six or more drinks). For example, a person who has three or four drinks, four or more times a week, would score positive as a hazardous drinker on the AUDIT-C.

Participants were asked on a single occasion to complete the AUDIT-C retrospectively for each decade of their life, from 16-19 to 80 and over.

This information was used to categorize their life-time drinking pattern: never hazardous drinker, former early hazardous drinker (stopped before age 50), former later hazardous drinker (stopped at age 50 or after), current hazardous drinker, and consistent hazardous drinker (during every decade of their life).

More than half of drinkers (56%) had been hazardous drinkers at some point in their life, with 21% being current hazardous drinkers and 5% being consistent hazardous drinkers.

Current and consistent heavy drinkers were primarily male (80% and 82%, respectively), predominately white, and likely to be in senior level jobs (61% compared with 52% in the total sample).

Former later, current and consistent hazardous drinkers had significantly higher systolic blood pressure and poorer liver function than never hazardous drinkers after adjusting for lifestyle factors.

Current hazardous drinkers had three times greater risk of stroke and former later hazardous drinkers had about double the risk of non-cardiovascular disease mortality compared with never hazardous drinkers.

“Despite high prevalence of stroke and liver disease steadily increasing in the United Kingdom, heavy drinking remains common among older adults,” said Professor Annie Britton (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), senior author on the study.

“Early intervention and screening for alcohol consumption, as part of regular check-ups, could help reduce hazardous drinking among this demographic.”

In addition, lifetime hazardous drinkers had significantly larger waist circumferences and BMI than never hazardous drinkers, with the magnitude increasing with more current and consistent hazardous drinking.

Former early hazardous drinkers on average had a 1.17 centimeters larger waist than never hazardous drinkers, whereas former later hazardous drinkers, current hazardous drinkers and consistent hazardous drinkers had a waist circumference that was 1.88 cm, 2.44 cm and 3.85cm larger respectively.

“This suggests that the longer adults engage in heavy drinking the larger their waistline in older age. That is why it is beneficial, along with other health benefits, that adults reduce heavy drinking earlier rather than later,” said Ng Fat.

Source: University College London

Heavy Drinking Into Older Age Linked to Greater Risk of Stroke, Larger Waistline

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Heavy Drinking Into Older Age Linked to Greater Risk of Stroke, Larger Waistline. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Apr 2020 (Originally: 3 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Apr 2020
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