Younger Men Drink More Heavily but With Less Regularity Than Older Men

Younger Men Drink More Heavily but With Less Regularity Than Older Men

Older men don’t binge drink as often as younger men, but they do have a higher rate of involvement in frequent drinking, the authors of a new British study report.

Young men in their 20s are well-known for their heavy involvement in a drunkenness-inducing form of short-term alcohol consumption called binge drinking. However, binge drinkers may or may not consume alcohol frequently (i.e., on lots of days per week). In a study published March 2015 in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers from five British institutions compared the drinking frequency rates of younger and older men. These researchers concluded that, while older men may binge drink less often than their younger counterparts, they often consume alcohol more times a week.

Frequent Drinking and Problem Drinking

Generally speaking, alcohol-related risk arises in two contexts. Short-term risk appears when a person drinks enough alcohol to cause acute physical and mental impairment, and thereby sharply increase his or her exposure to damaging outcomes such as alcohol poisoning, serious accidents, sexual assaults, physical assaults and other intentional injuries. These outcomes commonly appear in people who binge drink (i.e., consume enough alcohol to reach or exceed the threshold for alcohol intoxication in just a couple of hours). Long-term alcohol-related risk typically appears in the context of heavy drinking. Heavy drinkers consume enough alcohol per day or per week to increase their lifetime chances of receiving a diagnosis for alcohol abuse and/or alcohol dependence (two interlinked aspects of a single condition called alcohol use disorder).

Frequent drinkers consume alcohol on most days or on every day in the average week. On its own, frequent alcohol consumption is not inherently risky. For example, a man or woman who consumes just one standard serving of alcohol every day of the week will fail to meet the criteria for binge drinking or heavy drinking. However, even when they don’t meet the criteria for binge drinking, many frequent drinkers qualify as heavy drinkers by habitually consuming several alcohol servings on most or all days, or by habitually exceeding weekly totals for generally safe alcohol consumption.

Drinking Rates in the U.S.

The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration makes annual assessments of the typical patterns of alcohol consumption maintained by American men. At least half of all men between the ages of 21 and 64 consume some amount of alcohol in the typical month. The highest baseline monthly consumption rates appear in young men in their 20s. Young men in their 20s also maintain the nation’s highest rates for binge drinking, as well as the nation’s highest rates for heavy drinking. Conversely, the lowest rates for baseline monthly alcohol consumption, binge drinking and heavy drinking appear in men age 65 or older.

Frequent Drinking in Older Men

In the study published in BMC Medicine, researchers from the United Kingdom’s University College London, University of Bristol, University of Essex, University of Glasgow and MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Ageing used information gathered from 59,357 British men and women to assess changes in alcohol consumption associated with early and late stages of adulthood. In part, this project focused on the changes in men’s drinking patterns over the course of their lifetimes. Specific aspects of drinking patterns under consideration included the total amount of weekly alcohol intake and the frequency of alcohol intake.

The researchers found that men generally reach their peak of alcohol consumption in their mid-20s; at this age, the average weekly intake is 20 servings of alcohol, typically consumed on an erratic, irregular basis. After reaching their mid-20s, men typically experience a drop in their consumption levels before entering a long plateau that lasts for decades. After reaching age 60, men usually experience a further drop in their overall alcohol intake. Interestingly, the researchers found that men start to drink more frequently in middle age, even as their weekly total intake of alcohol declines. By the time they reach 65, slightly more than half of all men qualify as frequent drinkers by consuming alcohol every day of the week or almost every day of the week.

The study’s authors believe their findings indicate that common measurements of alcohol-related risk don’t necessarily capture all of the behaviors capable of increasing a person’s chances of drinking alcohol in potentially harmful ways. They also believe their findings underscore the importance of taking the long view of any individual’s exposure to dangerous alcohol use.

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