Older Americans drinking to ‘unprecedented’ level, study finds



Across the country, alcohol use — and misuse — have gone up among older adults, researchers say.

The new study in JAMA Psychiatry found that between 2001 and 2012, increases in alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and alcohol use disorder among older adults were substantial, said the study’s authors. So much so that they call the change “unprecedented.”

George Koob leads the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He said the health risks for drinking among this age group are different than for younger people.

“Almost everybody over 65 is taking a lot of pills and a number of those pills can actually potentiate the action of alcohol.”

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Taken together, the drugs have a stronger effect — and alcohol can interfere with other prescription drugs.

“For example,” he said, “If you take alcohol with an opioid, like a painkiller, you can kill yourself at doses lower for both the pain killer and the alcohol.”

Older Americans tend to take more prescription medications than younger adults, said David Oslin. He’s a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. During his years of practice, he’s seen more and more older adults come in for drug and alcohol treatment.

“Sixty-five year-olds are really quite common in clinical settings now.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that excessive alcohol consumption costs Pennsylvania over $9 billion a year. Nationally, the number is much higher, said Koob.

“The numbers we have are about $250 billion a year in health care costs and social costs. And drunk driving costs and every which way,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. The earlier you intervene the more likely you’re going to have some success,” he said.

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