Binge drinking is harmful to older drinkers, may be hidden by weekly average

March 3, 2014

Numerous studies have highlighted the purported association between moderate drinking and reduced mortality. However, these analyses have focused overwhelmingly on average consumption, a measure that masks diverse, underlying drinking patterns such as weekend heavy episodic or binge drinking. A study of the association between binge drinking and mortality among moderate-drinking older adults has found that those who engage in binge drinking have more than two times higher odds of 20-year mortality in comparison to regular moderate drinkers.

Results will be published in the May 2014 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"Binge drinking is increasingly being recognized as a significant public health concern," said Charles J. Holahan, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin as well as corresponding author for the study. "In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently concluded that binge drinking is 'a bigger problem than previously thought.' Ours is one of the first studies to focus explicitly on an older population in examining binge drinking among, on average, ."

"Some of the greater attention to binge drinking is due to increases in binge drinking since the mid-1990s, but perhaps more because of growing recognition of the importance of patterns: it's not just how much you drink but how you drink," added Timothy Naimi, a physician and alcohol researcher at Boston Medical Center at Boston University. "All told, excessive alcohol use causes about 80,000 deaths annually in the US, and many of these deaths are among youth and young and working-age adults."

For this study, researchers used data from a larger project examining late-life patterns of alcohol consumption and drinking problems. The baseline sample was comprised of 446 adults (334 men, 112 women) aged 55 to 65: 74 moderate drinkers who engaged in episodic heavy drinking, and 372 regular moderate drinkers. Study authors controlled for a broad set of socio-demographic, behavioral, and health-status covariates. Death across a 20-year follow-up period was confirmed primarily by death certificate.

The findings highlight the importance of focusing on drinking patterns, as well as absolute amounts of ethanol consumed, as predictors of health and mortality outcomes among older adults.

"We found that among older adults, those who engage in heavy episodic drinking – even when average consumption is moderate – show significantly increased total mortality risk compared to regular moderate drinkers," said Holahan. "These findings demonstrate that, among older adults, drinking patterns need to be addressed along with overall consumption in order to understand alcohol's health effects."

"This is a crucial point," added Naimi, "since approximately a quarter of 'moderate' drinkers report binge drinking, and most folks in the US don't typically drink in an 'average' way or on a daily basis. Clinicians should understand that even among those with apparently modest average consumption, a number of these folks may be drinking in risky ways."

Both Holahan and Naimi said these findings may pose special health concerns for these older adults, even though binge drinking is damaging at any age.

"Binge drinking concentrates 's toxicity and is linked to mortality by damaging body organs and increasing accident risk," said Holahan. "Binge drinking may be additionally risky for older adults due to aging-related elevations in comorbidities as well as medication use."

Naimi agreed. "Binge drinking is dangerous and many bad things have happened to drinkers or to others – car accidents, fights, injuries, domestic violence, sexual assaults – on the basis of binge drinking even if it is 'atypical' of how they drink and/or among those who are not alcoholic," he said. "While it is less common among those who are older than among youth and younger adults, it may carry as much or more risk on a per-person basis as older individuals have less physiologic reserves, for example."

"The take-home message here for readers is that is a significant public health problem that is frequent among middle-aged and ," said Holahan.

Explore further: Frequent binge drinking is associated with insomnia symptoms in older adults

Related Stories

Frequent binge drinking is associated with insomnia symptoms in older adults

June 10, 2013
A new study suggests that frequent binge drinking is associated with insomnia symptoms in older adults.

The effect of occasional binge drinking on heart disease and mortality among moderate drinkers

February 2, 2012
Most studies have found that binge drinking is associated with a loss of alcohol's protective effect against ischemic heart disease (IHD) and most studies have found an increase of coronary risk among binge drinkers.

More than one of every three Hoosiers who drink alcohol admits to bingeing, study finds

January 11, 2013
More than a third of the adult population in Indiana who consume alcohol admit to regular binge drinking, a habit that may cause severe neurological and physiological damage, says a new report from Ball State University.

CDC: Docs aren't doing enough to discourage problem drinking

January 7, 2014
(HealthDay)—Doctors aren't talking often enough with their patients about the harmful effects of alcohol, even if those patients are binge drinkers, U.S. health officials reported Tuesday.

Strong state alcohol policies protective against binge drinking

December 10, 2013
According to a new study, a novel composite measure consisting of 29 alcohol policies demonstrates that a strong alcohol policy environment is a protective factor against binge drinking in the U.S. The study was led by researchers ...

Binge drinking serious problem for US women

January 8, 2013
Binge drinking is an under-recognized problem for US women, nearly 14 million of whom engage in it about three times a month, downing about six drinks each time, says a study released Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.