Binge Drinking Is Spiking Among Elderly People

One in 10 people over 65 are binge-drinkers, a new study has found.

The research estimates more than one in 10 older Americans binge drink. That's an increase from the previous decade.

The study, out this morning from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, determined binge drinkers 65 and older were more likely to be men; they're also more likely to use tobacco or cannabis.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks at a time for men, and four or more drinks at a time for women. Researchers say the habit can be more dangerous for older people, putting them at risk for a range of health problems.

One of the findings of the study is that an estimated 70 percent of all hospitalised older persons, and up to 50 percent of nursing home residents, have alcohol-related problems in general.

Photo: Getty

"When we think about binge drinking, the image we usually think about is younger adults or college students, but this is in fact a growing trend in older Americans," said Dr. Tara Narula on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday.

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"It's been under-reported in both the scientific literature and in the media, but the problem is that the alcohol has a very strong effect on people who are older. They're more vulnerable to the health problems than even a younger population.

"Currently around 10.6 percent of older Americans are binge drinkers. In the previous decade, it was anywhere from seven to nine percent. So, that number is growing."

Senior couple toasting with wine glasses in vineyard, woman and man toasting each other

Co-host Anthony Mason asked, "Is it more dangerous for older Americans?"

"It can be," Dr. Narula replied.

"There are a couple of reasons why. They are more sensitive to the alcohol, so they're at a higher risk of getting impaired at tholde same level that might not impair somebody who's younger. Many of them have chronic health problems... It can allow them to develop new problems, like pancreatitis or gastritis or certain cancers.

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When asked about guidelines for binge drinking for older Americans, Dr. Narula said, "Really no American who is older should be drinking more than three drinks a day."

"If you have some sort of chronic disease or on prescription meds, you should speak to your doctor and they may recommend something even lower. Low-risk drinking is less that two drinks a day for a man, or one drink a day for a woman.

"It's really important that doctors screen for this and also educate about it. A lot of these people may be at home drinking alone."

Hangovers get worse as you get older. Photo: Getty

The study noted that for the metabolism of a person who is 65 years or older, drinking two or three beers at that age has the same effect as seven or eight beers on someone at age 20.

"They're exquisitely sensitive to it," said Dr. Narula.

Mason asked, "What do you do if you have a loved one who's doing this? How do you deal with this?"

"I think a lot of people tend to shy away from it or avoid it; they don't know how to deal with it," said Dr. Narula.

"I think it's important to be compassionate, loving and respectful to these older Americans you may feel have a problem, but also you want to be proactive. You want to address it, because early intervention is really essential."

"All of the recommendations really say, don't use the world alcoholic; don't talk to them while they may be intoxicated. You wait 'til they're sober. Be patient, be direct with them. You don't want to treat them like a child. You want to treat them like an adult, with respect, when you approach them."