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Heavy drinking declines with age, though drop is slower among men and smokers


BACKGROUND: Previous studies have suggested that people reduce their average alcohol consumption as they age. In the new study the researchers sought to determine whether the percentage of heavy drinkers--that is, men who have at least five drinks in one sitting and women who have at least four drinks -- also reduced as they aged. This latest study was based on data from 14,127 participants, aged 25 to 74, in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, first administered between 1971 and 1974, with three follow-ups through 1992.

FINDINGS: While the researchers noted that heavy drinking declined with age, they found it fell more slowly among men compared with women and among smokers compared with non-smokers. A higher probability of heavy drinking was associated with being unmarried, having less than a high school education, an annual income below the median, and not living in the Southeastern United States. Heavy drinking also declined faster among those who got married or quit smoking between follow ups.

IMPACT: Earlier studies have found that more educated people and those with higher income drink more on average; yet, this study showed that they are less likely to be heavy drinkers. Regular moderate drinking--about one or two glasses of wine per day, four or more days per week, is probably beneficial to cardiovascular health, while heavy drinking can be harmful, said Dr. Arun Karlamangla, assistant professor of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the study’s lead author. "Our study suggests that more educated people and those with higher income use alcohol regularly and moderately, while those with less income and education are more likely to drink heavily," Karlamangla said. "The benefits of drinking will be seen by the rich, the harm by the poor." This is also the first study to show that heavy drinking behavior can be changed: Those who got married or quit smoking during the study also reduced their heavy drinking.

AUTHORS: Others in addition to Karlamangla are Drs. David Reuben, professor and chief of geriatrics; Gail Greendale, professor of geriatrics; and Alison Moore, associate professor of geriatrics; and Keifei Zhou, research assistant in geriatrics. All are in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Enrique Rivero | EurekAlert!
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