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Elderly People Are Drinking a Ton and Loving It

One out of five people over the age of 65 is drinking at "unsafe levels," and we're mostly talking old, rich, well-educated white people, says a new study.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US
Photo via Flickr user Tim Berberich

We already know that Grandma loves hitting the sauce at the airport. After all, what's a transcontinental flight without six gin-and-tonics? If you can't be shameless when you're in your golden years of incontinence, when can you?

But while sure, we know that our great-aunts love their French 75s, we may not have fully accounted for the love of booze exhibited by senior citizens male and female, far and wide. A new study shows that collegiate men should step aside: nursing homes are practically the new frat houses.


A new study from King's College London recently published in BMJ Open has some surprising findings about the drinking habits of the elderly—our friends and relatives who are 65 and older.

READ: Rich, Educated People Drink the Most Out of Any of Us

Researchers combed through the anonymous health records of almost 28,000 people in this age group and focused on 9,248 senior citizens who had self-reported on their alcohol consumption. Within this pool, 1,980 were drinking at unsafe levels, at more than 21 units of alcohol for men or 14 units of alcohol for women per week. In other words, one out of five old people are party animals.

And before you assume that the boozers at hand are destitute alcoholics who are drinking to the escape of pain of poverty, think again: most of the drinkers at hand were "of higher socio-economic status." The demographic of unsafe drinkers also skewed predominantly male (about 65 percent) and white (a whopping 80 percent of the top drinkers, despite accounting for just 59 percent of the study subjects). Looks like old, rich, white men and heavy pours of Scotch are still the best of friends.

And the real bottle-hitters were going for it hard: the top 5 percent of drinkers from the study said that they consumed more than 49 units of alcohol per week for men and 23 for women. That's a lot of Grasshoppers and peach schnapps! (Differences in standard for alcohol consumption are due to average weight differences between genders and other factors. If your Aunt Nini can drink Uncle Harold under the table, props to her.)

Photo via Flickr user Dana Lane

Some old people partying. Photo via Flickr user Dana Lane

Dr. Mark Ashworth, one of the study's authors, points out that heavy drinking in an older age bracket has increased risks. "Reducing alcohol misuse is important to prevent premature death and serious negative health effects, such as alcoholic liver disease, which are [a] big burden on our health system," Ashworth said in a statement. "Alcohol excess carries additional risks in the older population such as falls and confusion."

It's also possible that people may have underreported how much they actually drink. After all, when talking to your GP, it's hard to fess up about the true extent of your love for getting sauced. Especially if you're wealthy and well-educated and might feel like you have some kind of reputation to uphold.

"Based on our findings, the elderly who were most at risk were those from the white British population rather than from an ethnic minority," Ashworth added, "and those who were wealthier and better educated rather than those from a more deprived background."

While it's great fun to do the Electric Slide with a bunch of octogenarians at a wedding, the study could direct needed attention to the possible health risks that come along with getting jiggy in your twilight years.

Dr. Tony Rao, the lead author of the study, explained, "As the Baby Boomer generation become seniors, they represent an ever-increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health. This study shows the need for greater awareness of the potential for alcohol-related harm in older people, particularly those of higher socio-economic status, who may suffer the consequences of ill health from alcohol at an earlier age than those in previous generations."

Sure, pass Grandpa the Glenlivet. But be sure to cut him off before he shatters his hip.