Binge Drinking Boosts Mortality Risk in Older Adults

Megan Brooks

March 03, 2014

Episodes of binge drinking are risky for anyone, but they are particularly so for aging adults who are moderate drinkers, new research suggests.

Compared with moderate-drinking older adults who do not binge, those that do have a 2-fold increased risk of dying during a 20-year period.

"These findings demonstrate that among older adults, drinking patterns need to be addressed along with overall consumption in order to understand alcohol's health effects," Charles J. Holahan, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

"This is a crucial point since approximately a quarter of 'moderate' drinkers report binge drinking, and most folks in the US don't typically drink in an 'average' way or on a daily basis," added Timothy S. Naimi, MD, MPH, associate professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

"Clinicians should understand that even among those with apparently modest average consumption, a number of these folks may be drinking in risky ways," said Dr. Naimi, who was not involved in the study.

The study was published online March 3 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Organ Damage

Studies of moderate drinking have focused "overwhelmingly" on average consumption, "which masks diverse underlying drinking patterns," the investigators write.

They examined the association between episodic heavy drinking and total mortality among 446 regular moderate drinkers aged 55 to 65 years at baseline. Moderate drinking was defined as up to 1 standard drink per day for women and 2 for men.

Of the 446 adults, 74 engaged in episodic heavy drinking, defined as 4 or more drinks on 1 occasion for women and 5 for men.

During the course of 20 years, the death rate was higher in the moderate drinkers who binged (61%, 45 deaths) than in moderate drinkers who did not binge (37%, 137 deaths).

Although more men than women died during the 20-year period, the distribution of deaths across alcohol consumption groups was similar for women and men (P = .76).

In multiple logistic regression analyses, after adjusting for all covariates as well as overall alcohol consumption, moderate drinkers who engaged in episodic heavy drinking had more than 2 times higher odds of 20-year mortality in comparison with regular moderate drinkers (odds ratio, 2.13; 95% confidence interval, 1.14 - 3.97; P < .05).

This study shows that older adults have a "significantly increased total mortality risk" when they binge drink, "even when average consumption is moderate," Dr. Holahan said in a statement.

"Binge drinking concentrates alcohol's toxicity and is linked to mortality by damaging body organs and increasing accident risk," he explained. "Binge drinking may be additionally risky for older adults due to aging-related elevations in comorbidities as well as medication use."

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. Published online March 3, 2014. Abstract

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