Up to 40% of older Kiwis drink hazardously

September 21, 2018, Massey University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

There is a common misconception that hazardous or risky drinking is something only young people do, but new research shows that between 35 to 40 per cent of New Zealanders aged 50 years or older may also drink hazardously.

A research team from Massey University's School of Health Sciences and the University of Auckland's Centre for Addiction Research, funded by the Health Promotion Agency (HPA), explored the prevalence of using data from more than 4,000 New Zealanders aged 50 years or older from the Massey University Health, Work and Retirement Longitudinal Study.

Research co-leader Dr. Andy Towers, from Massey University, says the research focused on older adults, as they are more at risk of harm from than younger drinkers. "As we age our body can't process alcohol as well, making it more toxic to us. Also, the older we get the more likely we are to develop and use medication that alcohol can interfere with. In this respect, the longer we live, the less alcohol we should drink."

The team found that 83 per cent of older New Zealanders in this sample were current drinkers, and between 35 to 40 per cent were considered 'hazardous drinkers'. This means that their level of – either on its own or in combination with health conditions and medication use – increased their risk of immediate harm (e.g., blackout, hospitalisation) or long-term harm (e.g., worsening health, death). Approximately half of older males (46 to 50 per cent) were hazardous drinkers, compared to around a quarter of older females (25 to 31 per cent).

Dr. Towers says this is a staggering finding from a large New Zealand study. "We know that the New Zealand population is ageing, but to find that so many of this growing population are at risk from their drinking is concerning. The majority of New Zealanders wouldn't consider their parents or grandparents to be risky drinkers, yet we've found that half of older men drank hazardously. This poses significant questions about how we identify and manage older drinkers in our health system," he says.

Professor Janie Sheridan and Dr. David Newcombe, research co-leaders from the University of Auckland, noted the importance these findings for informing alcohol screening practice. "This research highlights the need to screen all older patients for alcohol use, regardless of their presenting problem," Professor Sheridan says. "We found that many older New Zealanders are drinking hazardously, and many of those who are most at-risk see their GPs at least three times a year. This makes primary health care a perfect setting for identifying and helping older at-risk drinkers."

The report specifically compared the rate of hazardous drinking found with a standard alcohol screening tool that looks only at alcohol use patterns (the AUDIT-C) with the rate from a US-developed screen that combines alcohol use and other health-related risk factors for older drinkers (the CARET). While the screens agreed on the classification of many older drinkers, the team found a small number of drinkers whose health conditions and medication use would place them at risk of harm, but whom the usual alcohol screens would miss.

Dr. Newcombe says one of the positive outcomes of this research was the ability to translate research outcomes into advice for primary . "We can let GPs and nurses know that there are people presenting who normally wouldn't be screened for alcohol, but really should be. They tend to be who drink frequently, but not in great quantity at any one time, who also have health conditions such as heart disease or depression, and who may report driving after drinking."

The report offers professionals a helpful flow chart identifying the key characteristics of a range of older adult drinking groups, from those least at-risk of harm through to those most at-risk, but unlikely to appear so on traditional tools.

Dr. Towers says that in addition to providing insights for professionals to enhance screening practice, these results also reveal a lot about the New Zealand drinking culture. "The laws that allow young adults to drink so much today were put in place by their parents and grandparents who our research shows are drinking just as hazardously. Our findings strongly suggest that risky drinking is not a 'youth culture' issue as it's often made out to be; risky drinking is a 'New Zealand culture' issue."

Explore further: Drinking in moderation - is it good for you?

More information: Prevalence of hazardous drinking in older New Zealanders. www.hpa.org.nz/sites/default/f … %20August%202018.pdf

Related Stories

Drinking in moderation - is it good for you?

January 31, 2017
Moderate drinking is commonly assumed to be good for your health, but new research from Massey University's College of Health shows this might not be the case.

Middle-aged moderate drinkers rarely have health concerns about drinking

September 17, 2018
Middle-aged drinkers (30-65 year olds), who consume low-levels of alcohol, have either minor or non-existent concerns about the health effects of drinking, according to a systematic review published in the open access journal ...

An increasing proportion of women who are 60+ years of age are drinking

March 27, 2017
Most older Americans drink alcohol. Given that this segment of the population is projected to almost double by 2050, reaching 112 million, in the future, there will likely be many more older drinkers in the United States ...

Study examines sickness absence from work among abstainers, low-risk drinkers and at-risk drinkers

June 6, 2018
In a recent study, people who reported not drinking any alcohol over several years were absent from work due to illness more often than low-risk drinkers. The findings are published in Addiction.

One in five over-65s who drink alcohol do so at unsafe levels

August 23, 2015
One in five older people who drink alcohol are consuming it at unsafe levels - over 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 units for women each week - according to a study by King's College London. The research in inner-city ...

Chronic illness and depression increase likelihood of problem drinking in older adults

January 13, 2017
Older adults suffering from multiple chronic health conditions and depression are nearly five times as likely to be problem drinkers as older adults with the same conditions and no depression, according to researchers at ...

Recommended for you

The long-term effects of maternal high-fat diets

October 12, 2018
If a mother eats a high-fat diet, this can have a negative effect on the health of her offspring—right down to her great-grandchildren. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers at ETH Zurich from a study with mice.

First ever meta-analysis on Indian lead exposure reveals link to devastating intellectual disability in children

October 12, 2018
New Macquarie University research has revealed the devastating disease burden associated with elevated blood lead levels in India. The results of the first ever meta-analysis of Indian blood lead levels found the burden of ...

Sit-stand office desks cut daily sitting time and appear to boost job performance

October 11, 2018
Sit-stand workstations that allow employees to stand, as well as sit, while working on a computer reduce daily sitting time and appear to have a positive impact on job performance and psychological health, finds a trial published ...

Molecular link between body weight, early puberty identified

October 11, 2018
Becoming overweight at a young age can trigger a molecular chain reaction that leads some girls to experience puberty early, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

Hearing and visual aids linked to slower age-related memory loss

October 11, 2018
Hearing aids and cataract surgery are strongly linked to a slower rate of age-related cognitive decline, according to new research by University of Manchester academics.

Hundreds of patients with undiagnosed diseases find answers, study reports

October 10, 2018
More than 100 patients afflicted by mysterious illnesses have been diagnosed through a network of detective-doctors who investigate unidentified diseases, reports a study conducted by scientists at the Stanford University ...


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.