Now, researchers from University College London have found that excessive drinking into older age can contribute to larger waistlines and increase the risk for other health concerns.
“Alcohol misuse, despite the common perception of young people binge drinking, is common among older adults, with alcohol-related hospital admission in England being the highest among adults aged over 50,” said researcher Dr. Linda Ng Fat. “Previous studies have focused on single snapshots of consumption, which has the potential to mask the cumulative effects of drinking. This study raises awareness of the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course.”
Risks of heavy drinking
The researchers had nearly 5,000 people between the ages of 59 and 83 participate in the study. The goal was to understand how drinking patterns, particularly those that lasted into old age, affected the participants’ health.
The participants completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test for Consumption (AUDIT-C) for each decade of their lives, which gave the researchers insight into their drinking habits. Based on the responses, participants fell into various categories in accordance with their drinking.
Though just five percent of the participants were considered “consistent hazardous drinkers,” which means their drinking was problematic throughout their entire lives, 56 percent of the participants were considered “hazardous drinkers” at some point in time.
The study revealed that participants who drank heavily throughout their lives, either consistently or just for a period of time, had larger waistlines than those who were never heavy drinkers. Consistent heavy drinkers were at the highest risk, as the drinking was associated with a waistline four centimeters larger than those who were never heavy drinkers.
“This suggests that the longer adults engage in heavy drinking the larger their waistline in older age,” said Dr. Ng Fat. “That is why it is beneficial, along with other health benefits, that adults reduce heavy drinking earlier rather than later.”
Additional health concerns
The researchers also learned that those who drank into old age -- even if they stopped at some point in adulthood -- were at a higher risk for several health concerns, including stroke, higher blood pressure, and poorer liver function.
Moving forward, the researchers recommend that healthcare professionals ask their patients about their alcohol consumption in an effort to promote better overall health among older people.
“Early intervention and screening for alcohol consumption, as part of regular check-ups, could help reduce hazardous drinking among this demographic,” said researcher Annie Britton.