Are we the binge drinking boomers?

There is a newfound sobriety among younger Australians, according to a new report. But at the other end of the scale, research reveals a binge-drinking boom.

A Nielsen report has found that 66 per cent of 21 to 34-year-old drinkers in Australia are making an effort to reduce their overall alcohol intake as a result of being more health-conscious. And 20 per cent of Australians abstained from alcohol in 2017 – an 11 per cent increase from 2007.

However, the attitude shifts have not flowed through to consumption changes for older drinkers and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is concerned.

The Nielsen report concludes that “older people are pretty set in their drinking ways” and that “improvements in knowledge and attitudes are not going to be enough to shift their behaviours in the same way” as younger age groups.

Data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) shows that Australians are starting to drink at a later age and that 18 to 29-year-olds are drinking less. But in the 49-plus age group, a bracket that goes up to 70, there is not a downward trend in alcohol intake.

“It’s a worrying trend if you consider that, after age 40, for each decade, you’ll have one chronic illness, generally speaking,” said Associate Professor Demirkol.

“And so with that chronic illness, and polypharmacy, if you add alcohol on top of those medications, it can make things quite complicated. There are lots of issues around it.”

The RACGP says statistics show that the concerning drinking behaviours apply for both men and women.

“Age and gender are not protected factors,” said Assoc. Professor Demirkol.

“In fact, what we’re seeing is that women over 49 years old are actually drinking more compared to six years ago, and men’s bingeing behaviour, up to 60 years old, is almost on par with younger people, and that’s something we’ve not seen before.

“We are also seeing about eight per cent of the 70-plus age group drinking excessively on a regular basis, and about 20 or 30 per cent, depending on the gender, of 50-years-olds drinking harmfully.

“That’s a significant finding. We’re not talking about single-occasion drinking – we’re talking about on a regular basis.”

A report in The Conversation says that one in 10 people aged 65 and over engage in binge drinking.

Binge drinking for men is defined as drinking more than six drinks in one sitting and for women, drinking more than four drinks in one sitting.

Dr Tony Rao, lecturer in old age psychiatry at King’s College in London, says that in the UK hospital admissions for mental disorders related to alcohol have risen by 21 per cent in the past five years in people aged 50 and over.

“These admissions are due to a range of mental disorders from alcohol dependence and intoxication to memory disorders such as dementia. Unfortunately, this is a trend that has only worsened over the past 15 years as the ‘baby boomer’ generation has aged,” he says.

Using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), researchers in the UK asked participants a series of questions to rate a person’s risk of alcohol-related harm.

The study found that men were one-and-a-half times more likely than women to have current or past alcohol-related problems – such as injury due to alcohol consumption. They also scored an average of two points less on average on a dementia-screening test, which meant they were likely to be at a higher risk of developing dementia.

Dr Rao says his research shows that many older people are not receiving much support when it comes to monitoring and reducing their drinking behaviours. Older people are often not asked about their drinking habits by health professionals, whereas younger people are regularly asked.

He says that older men who regularly drink above the weekly limit or binge drink are at higher risk of developing certain types of dementia.

“Alcohol-related dementia is different from other types of dementia,” he says, “as it damages the frontal lobes of the brain and may lead to changes in personality, such as being more impulsive and having difficulty controlling emotions.”

Do you drink more than the recommended level? Have your drinking habits changed as you have aged?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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