While it appears the message about risky drinking is getting through to younger Australians, baby boomers are as bad as ever.
According to a research letter appearing in the latest edition of the MJA, the proportion of 55-70-year-olds who could be classed as high-risk drinkers has risen over the last 15 or so years. The South Australian researchers say this is in ‘stark contrast to the significant decrease in risky drinking among people aged between 12-24 years during the same period.’
And while they do emphasise that by far the majority of older Australians (over 80%) are abstainers or drink at low risk levels, the proportional increase of those now in the high-risk category (from 2.1% in 2004 to 3.1% in 2016) represents an additional 400,000 at-risk individuals – significant in anyone’s language. The findings were based on secondary analyses of data from National drug Strategy Household Surveys conducted in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016.
Interestingly the researchers defined the risk categories on the basis of the maximum number of standard alcoholic drinks drunk on a single occasion over the course of a month. So low-risk were those individuals who never consumed more than four drinks in a single session, risky drinkers drank 5-10 drinks in one session at least once a month and high-risk drinkers needed to have drunk 11 or more drinks at least once a month. It’s a slightly different means of assessment to the more common approach of asking about average daily alcohol intake and appears more likely to detect the binge drinker – or your classic ‘social drinker.’
As the letter authors point out, detecting problem drinking in this age group is especially important as this cohort is particularly vulnerable to a range of alcohol-related adverse events from falls to diabetes.
Once again, the researchers are looking to GPs to detect those at-risk from drinking among our baby boomer patient population and initiate evidence-based interventions, such as short, opportunistic counselling and information sessions. But they recognise this isn’t always easy.
“To facilitate early identification of problem drinking and early intervention, educating health care professionals about patterns and drivers of alcohol consumption by older people should be a priority,” the authors said.
Perhaps using the study’s categorisation technique of the maximum number of drinks consumed in a single session might go some way to detecting those at risk.
Roche AM, Kostadinov V. Baby boomers and booze: we should be worried about how older Australians are drinking. Med J Aust. 2019; 210(1): 38-9. DOI: 10.5694/mja2.12025. Available from: https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2019/210/1/baby-boomers-and-booze-we-should-be-worried-about-how-older-australians-are