Older Adults Often Exceed Alcohol Consumption Limits

Guidelines for “safe” alcohol use among older adults recommend daily limits (no more than 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women), weekly limits (no more than 14 drinks for men and 7 drinks for women) or a combination (no more than 1 drink per day, 7 drinks per week, or 3 drinks per drinking session, regardless of sex).

The proportion of older adults who actually exceed each of these limits (i.e., engage in risky drinking) and experience associated alcohol-related problems is unknown. To explore these issues, researchers surveyed 1291 non-abstinent, community-dwelling older adults at baseline and 10 years later.

  • The prevalence of risky drinking differed across guidelines, ranging from 23 percent to 50 percent among women and from 29 percent to 45 percent among men.

  • Both men and women who exceeded consumption limits were more likely to have alcohol-related problems (e.g., difficulties with relationships and functioning) both at study entry and follow-up.
    These problems were more prevalent in men.

  • Both men and women reduced consumption after 10 years.

  • The limit of no more than 7 drinks per week/3 drinks per day offered the best combination of sensitivity and specificity in predicting alcohol-related problems in both men and women. At this cut-off, 16% of women and 34% of men had alcohol use problems at follow-up.

Comments by Joseph Conigliaro, MD, MPH:

In this community-based sample, risky drinking (defined by specific consumption levels) was prevalent among older adults, and guideline cut-offs were associated with alcohol-related problems. Further, data from this study confirm that different consumption limits for older women and men are not justifiable.


Moos RH, Brennan PL, Schutte KK, et al. High-risk alcohol consumption and late-life alcohol use problems. Am J Public Health. 2004;94(11):1985-1991.

Reprinted with permission from Alcohol and Health: Current Evidence.

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