August 17, 2009 / 10:00 PM / 8 years ago

Binge drinking a problem for older adults too: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Binge drinking is usually seen as a problem of college campuses but many older adults may be overindulging in alcohol as well, according to a U.S. study published on Monday.

Using data from a government survey of nearly 11,000 Americans aged 50 and up, researchers found that 23 percent of men and nine percent of women aged between 50 and 64 admitted to binge drinking in the past month.

Among adults age 65 and older, more than 14 percent of men and three percent of women reported bingeing on alcohol which was defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion, on at least one day in the past month.

Alcohol binges are often considered a problem of youth.

One recent government study found that among U.S. college students between the ages of 18 and 24, 45 percent reported a recent drinking binge.

But the new findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, show that older adults can be susceptible too, according to Reuters Health.

"We feel that our findings are important to the public health of middle-aged and elderly persons as they point to a potentially unrecognized problem that often 'flies beneath' the typical screen for alcohol problems in psychiatry practices," researcher Dan Blazer, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, said in a statement.

Blazer and colleague Li-Tzy Wu based their findings on a national health survey conducted between 2005 and 2006.

Along with binge drinking, the survey looked at so-called at-risk drinking -- drinking habits that could have negative effects on a person's health.

In this study, that was defined as averaging at least two drinks per day.

Among 50- to 64-year-olds, 19 percent of men and 13 percent of women were at-risk drinkers. The figures among older men and women were 13 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Binge drinking carries a number of risks, including accidental injuries, violent behavior, neurological damage and blood pressure increases.

These hazards, Blazer and Wu write, "clearly present" greater consequences later in life, when people often have chronic health conditions that can be aggravated by heavy drinking.

But the researchers noted that most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol, so their problem drinking may go unrecognized.

The message for doctors, Blazer said, is that they should be asking their older patients specifically about binge drinking.

Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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