Older Adults Who Drink Alcohol at Risk for Drug Interactions
Monday, November 23, 2015
A new study shows that more than 41% of older adults drink alcohol on a regular basis, and 20% of older adults regularly use prescription or non-prescription drugs that interact with alcohol. Nearly all of these alcohol and drug interactions are moderate to major—even life-threatening—severity, say the researchers.
In the study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago examined data from 2,975 adults between the ages of 57 and 84 years of age. Interviewers asked the participants about all the drugs they took regularly, including prescription and non-prescription medication, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal and alternative medicines. The researchers used a standardized drug index to identify medicines that interact with alcohol and the severity of the interaction.
To determine the drinking habits of the participants, the interviewers asked a series of questions about how often the participants drank alcohol and how much they consumed. The researchers classified the participants into groups by the amount of alcohol they consumed:
- Light drinkers (1 drink per day)
- Heavy drinkers (2 to 3 drinks a day)
- Binge drinkers (more than 4 drinks per day).
According to the researchers, their study revealed that pain relievers and antidepressants were among the most commonly used drugs that interact with alcohol. They also learned that older men with multiple chronic conditions were at the highest risk for having drug-alcohol interactions.
During the study, from 2005 to 2006, the researchers learned that 41% of older adults drank at least one drink every week; men aged 57 to 64 were the most common drinkers. The researchers also learned that:
- 17% of older adults were light drinkers
- 20% were moderate drinkers
- Fewer than 5% were heavy or binge drinkers
The researchers noted that older adults who use pain relievers, diabetes medications and psychotropic drugs (such as antidepressants and tranquilizers, for example) were less likely to be regular drinkers, and that people who were heavy or binge drinkers were less likely to use certain alcohol-interacting drugs (such as aspirin and diabetes drugs).
“This suggests that physicians may be asking their patients about their drinking behavior, and tailoring their prescribing practices accordingly,” noted the researchers. Alternatively, Dr. Qato says, “Patients who drink regularly may be aware of these risks and are not taking the alcohol-interaction medications their physician prescribed.”
The researchers concluded that efforts to improve the safe use of medications in older adults should focus on making sure that older adults are aware of the health risks associated with medications that interact with alcohol, especially for those who drink alcohol.
Patients should ask their physician or pharmacist about the risks associated with taking their medications or medication combinations, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, with alcohol, advise the researchers..
This summary is from “Drug-Alcohol Interactions Among Older Adults in the US.” It appears online ahead of print in the November 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Dima Mazen Qato, PharmD, MPH, PhD, Beenish S. Manzoor, MPH, and Todd A. Lee, PharmD, PhD, University of Illinois, Pharmacy Systems, Outcomes, and Policy.