Boomer ‘risky’ drinking habits rise

Alcohol-related absenteeism costs Australian businesses up to $2 billion a year, health authorities are also noticing rises in prescribed opioid addition and methamphetamine use. Photo: iStock

More older Australians are drinking at “risky levels” as the Baby Boomer generation ages, Flinders researchers warn.

The rise in problem drinking is coming up against a health-care system already struggling with an ageing population, say Professor Ann Roche, Director of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University, and NCETA research officer Victoria Kostadinov who analysed data from the tri-annual National Drug Strategy Household Surveys (2004, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016) for the article in the Medical Journal of Australia.

“Older people are vulnerable to a range of alcohol-related adverse effects, including falls and other injuries, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health problems, obesity, liver disease, and early onset dementia and other brain injury,” the NCETA researchers say.

“Age-appropriate resources and techniques for clinical practice are also required for encouraging low-risk drinking in more vulnerable groups of older people, and for minimising the risks of alcohol-related harm.”

The article by Professor Roche and Ms Kostadinov suggests that primary care is the ideal setting for both detecting and intervening in risk drinking in older patients, calling on GPs to use “short, opportunistic counselling and information sessions that motivate behavioural change”.

They also suggest that improved education for doctors about “patterns and drivers of alcohol consumption by older people” be a priority, particularly in regard to the  needs and characteristics of older patients.

Four drinking level categories were defined: abstainers; low risk drinkers (no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion); risky drinkers (5-10 standard drinks on a single occasion at least once a month); and high risk drinkers (11 or more standard drinks on a single occasion at least once a month).

Between 2004 and 2016, the proportion of risky drinkers increased from 13.4% to 13.5%, and the proportion of high-risk drinkers increased from 2.1% to 3.1%.

“The rising prevalence of risky drinking therefore cannot be attributed solely to increasing numbers of older people,” the MJA article says.

“Although the increases in the proportions of risky and high-risk drinkers are small, they nevertheless correspond to an additional 400,000 people drinking at potentially problematic levels.

“Specific characteristics of Baby Boomers (people born 1946-1964) may be important contributors to the changing pattern of consumption, which is in stark contrast to the significant decrease in risky drinking among people aged 12-24 years during the same period.

The Medical Journal of Australia is published by the Australian Medical Association. Listen to the MJA podcast with Professor Ann Roche.

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College of Medicine and Public Health