Alcohol is the most commonly used psychoactive substance among older adults, and this group can have unique risks associated with alcohol consumption — in even lower amounts — compared to younger persons.
"Older adults have particular vulnerabilities to alcohol due to physiological changes during aging, including increasing chronic disease burden and medication use," said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, a geriatrician and health services researcher at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) and in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYU Langone). "However, no recent studies have estimated trends in alcohol use, including binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders among older adults."
To address the lack of research, Dr. Han and his team examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (years 2005 to 2014) in a paper published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Trends of self-reported past-month binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorder were examined among adults age 50 and older. The researchers found significant increases in past-year alcohol use, past-month alcohol use, past-month binge drinking, and alcohol use disorders. The paper, "Demographic trends of binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders among older adults in the United States, 2005-2014." Published on-line 12 December 2016.
Results also suggest that while men had a higher prevalence of binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders than women, binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorder increased among women in this nationally representative sample.
"As females age, they tend to experience a larger impact of physiological changes in lean body mass compared to men," commented Dr. Han. "Thus, they may experience the adverse effects associated with consuming alcohol even in lower amounts."
"The increase in binge drinking among older women is particularly alarming" said Dr. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone. "Both men and women are at risk for getting themselves into risky sexual situations while drinking, but women are at particularly high risk." Dr. Palamar also stated that "heavy drinking can not only have unintended health consequences, but it can also lead to socially embarrassing or regretful behavior."
For the researchers, the results also raise public health concerns, given the significant increases in binge alcohol use among older adults who reported "fair/poor" health and/or multiple chronic conditions. This population is particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of alcohol as it can impact chronic disease management or increase the risk of injury.
"Health care providers need to be made aware of this increasing trend of unhealthy alcohol use, particularly among older females, and ensure that screening for unhealthy alcohol use is part of regular medical care for this population" said Dr. Han.
Researcher Affiliations: Benjamin H. Han1,2, Alison A. Moore3, Scott Sherman1,4, Katherine M. Keyes5, Joseph J. Palamar2,4
1. New York University School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care, 550 First Avenue, BCD 615, New York, NY 10016
2. Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, New York University Rory College of Nursing, 433 First Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10010.
3. University of California, San Diego, Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, 9500Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093
4. New York University Langone Medical Center, Department of Population Health, 550 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016
5. Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, 722 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032
This project was funded, in part, by the NIH (K01 DA-038800, PI: Palamar).
About NYU Langone Medical Center:
NYU Langone Medical Center, a world-class, patient-centered, integrated academic medical center, is one of the nation's premier centers for excellence in clinical care, biomedical research, and medical education. Located in the heart of Manhattan, NYU Langone is composed of five hospitals–Tisch Hospital, its flagship acute care facility; Rusk Rehabilitation; the Hospital for Joint Diseases, the Medical Center's dedicated inpatient orthopaedic hospital; NYU Lutheran Medical Center, a full-service, 450-bed teaching hospital located in Brooklyn, and Hassenfeld Children's Hospital, a comprehensive pediatric hospital supporting a full array of children's health services across the Medical Center. Also part of NYU Langone is NYU School of Medicine, which since 1841 has trained thousands of physicians and scientists who have helped to shape the course of medical history, and the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. The Medical Center's trifold mission to serve, teach, and discover is achieved 365 days a year through the seamless integration of a culture devoted to excellence in patient care, education, and research. For more information, go to http://www.NYULangone.org
About the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing
NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing is a global leader in nursing education, research, and practice. It offers a Bachelor of Science with a major in Nursing, a Master of Science and Post-Master's Certificate Programs, a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and a Doctor of Philosophy in nursing research and theory development.
The mission of the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) is to end the HIV and HCV epidemics in drug using populations and their communities by conducting transdisciplinary research and disseminating its findings to inform programmatic, policy, and grass roots initiatives at the local, state, national and global levels. CDUHR is a Core Center of Excellence funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant #P30 DA011041). It is the first center for the socio-behavioral study of substance use and HIV in the United States and is located at the New York University College of Nursing. For more information, visit http://www.cduhr.org.