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Research Summary

High-Risk Drinking Is Associated with Lower Self-Rated Physical and Mental Health among Older Americans

Recent studies have questioned whether older adults who exceed recommended drinking limits experience adverse health consequences. Researchers analyzed data in a subsample of 4646 men and women age ≥60 who reported current drinking on the 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Using latent class analysis and results of the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule (DSM-IV version), they divided the cohort into 3 consumption categories: low-risk (89%), moderate-risk (10%), and high-risk (1%). Multivariable analysis was used to determine the association between consumption category, demographic factors, and self-rated health.

  • Compared with participants in the low-risk consumption category, those in the moderate- and high-risk categories tended to be younger and were more likely to be male, to have less than a high school education, and to be the child of an alcoholic.
  • Current smoking rates were 17% in the low-risk category and 37% and 54% in the moderate- and high-risk categories, respectively.
  • High-risk drinking was associated with poorer self-rated physical and mental health. Moderate-risk drinking was not.
  • Only 7% of participants in the high-risk category reported receiving alcohol treatment services in the past year.


This study provides important data on the prevalence of unhealthy alcohol use among older Americans who drink. Although it is not surprising that high-risk drinking was associated with poorer self-rated physical and mental health, it is interesting that moderate-risk drinking was not. The fact that few participants in the high-risk consumption category had received treatment suggests that more needs to be done to identify and intervene with such patients. Darius A. Rastegar, MD


Sacco P, Bucholz KK, Spitznagel EL. Alcohol use among older adults in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions: a latent class analysis. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2009;70(6):829–838.