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College students aren't the only binge drinkers
Raleigh News and Observer


August 17, 2009

A significant percentage of people older than 50 are binge drinking, and experts fear the trend could cause severe health problems in the near future for baby boomers who continue their heavy drinking habits, according to a new study by Duke University Medical Center researchers scheduled for online publication Monday.

Twenty-two percent of men and 9 percent of women 50 to 64 reported drinking five or more drinks at one time during the last month, according to the survey, which will be published in online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study showed 19 percent of men and 13 percent of women in the same age group engaged in heavy or at-risk drinking -- two or more drinks per day.

In the 65-and-older age group, 14 percent of men and 3 percent of women engaged in binge drinking, researchers found. Titled the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the research is touted as one of the largest surveys of substance use among people older than 50.

Drinking is more likely to compound health problems among older people as the body's natural immunities are weakened, said Dr. Dan Blazer, the study's lead author and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Medical Center.

"They might be at risk when driving, or it could affect anxiety or blood pressure medication," he said. "There are a number of possible health problems, and they are going to be at a greater risk."

Blazer said the numbers are likely to increase. Younger generations use and abuse alcohol more than the age groups studied, he said. The findings suggest they won't stop drinking simply because they are older.

"People need to know that sitting down and drinking five cocktails or seven or eight beers is not without consequence," Blazer said. "It's a condition that could fly under the radar, but it can lead to problems."

Blazer said the trend has gone unnoticed partly because doctors don't ask the right questions. Rather than asking patients when last they drank, he said, doctors should ask how many they had.

The study did not specify the causes of the trend. Blazer said several factors could have contributed, including loneliness, alienation or hanging onto past habits.


E-mail Ray Martin at ray.martin(at)
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