Older Women Hitting the Bottle?

Current and binge drinking increasing among older American women

binge drinking statistics and visual representations
Photo: Courtesy of CDC.gov

Many older Americans drink alcohol. Even among healthy adults, alcohol consumption may cause some problems, and scientists are raising concerns about alcohol consumption in older women.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health examined alcohol consumption among older Americans. They found that older women were drinking more compared to men and that binge drinking was increasing in that population.

Alcohol consumption is one of those lifestyle habits that can be a minor issue or a potential health problem. For the older adult, it can also be problematic because many of them also take prescription medications that may interact with their favorite tipple

Older adults may also be more sensitive to alcohol’s effects compared to younger adults. The combination of alcohol, increased sensitivity and medication interactions could increase the risk of accidents and falls.

Lead author Rosalind A. Breslow, PhD, MPH and colleagues studied data from the 1997-2014 National Health Interview Surveys.

Survey respondents included 31,803 men and 33,500 women aged 60 and older. Of the study participants 6,570 men and 1,737 women reported binge drinking.

The researchers found that while drinking among older men increased an average of 0.7 percent per year, in increased 1.6 percent per year among older women. Of even more concern, binge drinking among men remained stable, while among women it increased an average of 3.7 percent per year.

The National Institutes of Health notes that women are at higher risk of alcohol-related health problems. Because of their smaller size and less water in the body, women’s brains are exposed to more of the alcohol they consume as well as the toxic byproducts released when the alcohol is broken down.

Healthy women should drink no more than one drink per day, or 14 grams of pure alcohol

The researchers note their findings highlight the need for alcohol-related public health education as well as screening and access to treatment. The findings are particularly significant given that the population of older adults is growing because of the baby boomer generation and is projected to reach 112 million by 2050.

The study was published in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Information on conflict of interest was not available.

Science Daily, “An increasing proportion of women who are 60 years of age and older are drinking”
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, “Trends in Alcohol Consumption Among Older Americans: National Health Interview Surveys, 1997 to 2014”
National Institutes of Health, “Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue”

Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.