Binge Drinking Is on the Rise in Older Adults—but What Exactly Is Binge Drinking?
It's not just a trend in college students.
Binge drinking seems like only something college students do, but it turns out, many older adults drink alcohol in excess, too.
New research published this week in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found 1 in 10 adults over the age of 65 engages in binge drinking, putting them at greater risk for falls and other medical problems.
Researchers from New York University analyzed data on 10,927 people over age 65 who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. About 10.6% of participants reported binge drinking, which the study defined as having five or more drinks at once for men and four or more for women, within the past 30 days. (That's also the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's definition of binge drinking for people of all ages.)
The same group of researchers published a similar study in 2017, looking at binge drinking among older adults from 2005 to 2014. Though the two studies asked slightly different questions about alcohol use, less than 9% of people over the age 65 said they'd engaged in binge drinking during the past month in the previous study, which led researchers to believe rates of excessive drinking in older adults may be slowly rising.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that people over age 65 who have no chronic diseases limit themselves to three drinks per day. However, 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, according to the National Council on Aging (NCA). The NIAAA says those who have a health problem or take certain medications may need to drink less or not at all.
That's because, according to the NCA, alcohol can worsen some chronic diseases (such as hypertension and diabetes), have a dangerous interaction with certain medications, or make people forget to take their medication all together.
"Binge drinking, even episodically or infrequently, may negatively affect other health conditions by exacerbating disease, interacting with prescribed medications, and complicating disease management," the study's lead author Benjamin Han, MD, assistant professor at NYU Langone Health, said in a press release.
To make matters more complicated, the research also found cannabis use was higher among binge drinkers, a combination that may increase older adults' risk for falls. According to the NCA, falls are the leading cause of broken bones, trauma, and deaths among older adults.
Dr. Han said in the release, "Our results underscore the importance of educating, screening, and intervening to prevent alcohol-related harms in older adults, who may not be aware of their heightened risk for injuries and how alcohol can exacerbate chronic diseases."