Last Updated: Feb. 2019
Author: Vermont Department of Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs
Over one fifth of Vermonters age 65 and older drink at a risky level. Alcohol is the most commonly abused psychoactive substance among all age groups including older adults. Adults 65+ may have unique risks associated with alcohol use. Older adults may have greater risks associated with alcohol use likely due to physiological changes during the aging process, including chronic diseases and increased medication use. These results raise public health concerns given a fifth of older adults report ‘fair/poor’ health. However, older adults report significantly fewer “poor mental health days” than other age groups. This population may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of alcohol as it may impact the course of chronic disease or increase risks of injury at lower doses than younger adults. However, we note that “Older adults with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes are significantly less likely than those without these conditions to report binge and chronic drinking. Obese adults are also significantly less likely to report chronic drinking than those who are not obese. This suggests that those with these conditions may be hearing from their doctor, or other sources, that alcohol consumption should be limited due to their illness. Health providers should ensure that screening for unhealthy alcohol use is part of the regular medical care for this population.
We use the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey data to look at alcohol use risk behaviors among adults age 65 and older. The data depict the percentage of at-risk drinking by this age group. At-risk drinking is defined as 3 or more drinks on one occasion for men and 2 or more drinks for women. This is an indicator of a health risk reported in the Health Rankings by the National Health Foundation.
Vermont rates of at-risk drinking among older adults is somewhat higher than US rates.
For more information on alcohol use in older adults, please see this Health Department Data Brief and the reference section below.