Friday, April 28, 2023

Age at Onset of Problem Drinking May be Poor Predictor of Outcomes, Study Finds

People who begin to experience problem drinking after the age of 60 can benefit from treatment and may have better mental functioning than those who develop problem drinking earlier in life, according to a study published this week in Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“Age of onset of problem drinking, that is, the age at which a person first experiences problems in relation to their drinking, has long been regarded as an important criterion in distinguishing between types of drinkers and in determining longer-term prognosis,” wrote Jennifer Seddon, Ph.D., M.Sc., of Oxford Brookes University and colleagues.

Seddon and colleagues used data from the U.K.-based Drink Wise, Age Well program, which provides resources to people aged 50 and older who experience alcohol problems. Participants were grouped based on the age at which they first experienced problem drinking: early onset (younger than 25 years); mid onset (25 to 39 years), late onset (40 to 59 years), and very late onset (older than 60 years).

The authors assessed participants’ alcohol use using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT); a score of 20 or greater indicates high levels of alcohol problems and possible dependence. Further, they assessed participants’ mental health status with the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, and the 14-item Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale. Cognitive impairment was assessed with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. Finally, the authors collected information from participants on the number of days they drank in the past month, the number of drinks consumed on a typical drinking day, and their experiences with previous alcohol treatment.

Among 780 participants, 85 (11%) first experienced problem drinking at age 60 years or older. Those who began problem drinking after age 60 had significantly lower AUDIT scores (19.41 compared with scores ranging from 22 to 25 in the other age groups). After controlling for the effects of age, the researchers found that the cognitive functioning of the very late onset group was not significantly different from that of the other groups; they also found that these participants had significantly lower levels of depression and significantly better mental health well-being. Additionally, the age at which participants developed problem drinking was not associated with treatment outcomes, such as treatment completion.

“The results of this study suggest that older adults can benefit from alcohol treatment irrespective of age of problem drinking onset, and age of onset of problem drinking may be a poor predictor of treatment outcome,” the authors wrote.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Underage Drinking Declines, But Extreme Binge Drinking Rises.”

(Image: iStock/skynesher)

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