When binge drinking is mentioned, immediately, people start chuckling and assume it’s an issue that centers around most commonly teens and young adults “getting wasted.” While it’s true that this unhealthy form of alcohol consumption mainly affects those from the age of 18 to 34 years, binge drinking is now skyrocketing among seniors. Troubling new research shows that more than 10 percent of Americans over the age of 65 binge drink regularly.
The words binge drinking are often carelessly tossed around, but there is a true definition, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has described it this way:
The NIAAA states that binge drinking is “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours.”
The organization isn’t alone in its assessment as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has its own similar definition stating that binge drinking includes “5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.”
The 10 percent-plus increase in seniors binge drinking poses alarming statistics because 10 years ago, those numbers were not that high. Research indicates that older Baby Boomers who have reached the age of 65 or more are continuing their bad habits into the senior citizen age bracket.
Binge drinking isn’t related to the type of alcohol consumed; it’s the amount that matters. For instance, binge drinking on beer, wine or liquor all show similar negative ramifications.
Excessive alcohol consumption can result in a variety of problems for drinkers of all ages but especially for seniors and their health. For example, there are the consequences of falling with a risk of serious injury. Falls are the most common cause of injuries among senior citizens and the number one reason for a hospital admission for trauma.
Half of all seniors hospitalized for a hip fracture, for instance, cannot return home or live independently after the fall.
Binge drinking is not good for an older brain as it poses an increased risk for the development of neurological issues. These could include dementia, nerve pain and movement disorder. Some seniors can also develop cognitive challenges with memory, problem-solving, attention span and the like.
Mental health issues can also arise from this dangerous form of drinking alcohol, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disease or psychotic disorders.
Doctors treating patients with chronic diseases advise them not to drink any alcohol, and although many comply with the medical advice, others continue to binge drink. One survey found that these vulnerable seniors kept drinking despite the warning from their primary care physician and had done so in the past month.
These survey participants included 41 percent with high blood pressure, 23 heart disease and nearly 18 percent with diabetes.
Mixing alcohol with medicines is another potential problem, especially for senior citizens at risk. Here in the United States alone, 75 percent of adults take a prescription medication on a regular basis. Those numbers are even higher for those ages 65 and older.
This becomes more complicated when multiple alcoholic beverages are consumed. Science shows that as we age, the body’s ability to break down alcohol becomes slower. That means alcohol stays in a person’s system longer. Senior citizens are more likely to take a medication that interacts with alcohol, too. They also often need to take more than one of these medications. Mixing binge drinking with prescription meds can pose major consequences.
The rise in cannabis use has become more popular with older adults, and it, too, can create problems when mixing with heavy alcohol consumption. More Baby Boomers are using medical marijuana in particular to treat chronic pain. When both are combined at high doses, the mix can be dangerous. Both cannabis and binge drinking result in sedation, but that is not all. The pairing may enhance higher impairment, time distortions and even subtle hallucinogenic reactions. Physical effects could include slowed reflexes and decreased motor coordination.
The federal government has set drinking guidelines for senior citizens: If you are age 65 or older and are healthy and do not take medications, then you should not have more than 3 drinks on a given day or 7 drinks in a week.
Drinking too much and too often is never a healthy thing for any man or woman at any age. It is especially more dangerous for seniors due to the normal physiological changes of aging. The body isn’t the same as it was 50 years ago, but here in the U.S., social acceptance of alcohol is at a high point.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have come out with the strictest guidelines and currently recommend that women limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day and men two drinks per day.
A global study published in The Lancet went further, saying that no amount of alcohol is good for your overall health.