How does the prevalence of alcoholism vary by age?

Updated: Nov 27, 2018
  • Author: Warren Thompson, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Answer

The prevalence of alcoholism declines with increasing age. The prevalence in elderly populations is unclear but is probably approximately 3%. A study of the US Medicare population found that alcohol-related hospitalizations were as common as hospitalizations for myocardial infarction.

Because of the growing population of older Americans, the number of heavy drinkers will increase from 1 million currently to 2 million by 2060. [20] The 2012–2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III (NESARC III) found that 55.2% of adults age 65 and over drink alcohol. Most of them don’t have a drinking problem, but some of them drink above the recommended daily limits. [21]

Among older patients with alcoholism, from one third to one half develop alcoholism after age 60 years. This group is harder to recognize. A population-based study found that problem drinking (>3 drinks/d) was observed in 9% of older men and in 2% of older women. Alcohol levels are higher in elderly patients for a given amount of alcohol consumed than in younger patients.

Among younger individuals (such as college students), weekly or daily consumption of energy drinks (highly caffeinated beverages) has been strongly associated with alcohol dependence. This population is an important target population for alcohol use disorder prevention. [22]

More than a quarter (27%) of all 15- to 19-year-olds worldwide consume alcohol. Rates are highest in Europe (44%), followed by the Americas (38%) and the Western Pacific (38%). Total alcohol consumption per capita among those older than 15 years around the world rose from 5.5 liters of pure alcohol in 2005 to 6.4 liters in 2010 and remained at that level in 2016.12


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