Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 92–97 | Cite as

Alcohol Consumption Among Older Adults in Primary Care

  • JoAnn E. Kirchner
  • Cynthia Zubritsky
  • Marisue Cody
  • Eugenie Coakley
  • Hongtu Chen
  • James H. Ware
  • David W. Oslin
  • Herman A. Sanchez
  • U. Nalla B. Durai
  • Keith M. Miles
  • Maria D. Llorente
  • Giuseppe Costantino
  • Sue Levkoff
Original Article


Alcohol misuse is a growing public health concern for older adults, particularly among primary care patients.


To determine alcohol consumption patterns and the characteristics associated with at-risk drinking in a large sample of elderly primary care patients.


Cross-sectional analysis of multisite screening data from 6 VA Medical Centers, 2 hospital-based health care networks, and 3 Community Health Centers.


Patients, 43,606, aged 65 to 103 years, with scheduled primary care appointments were approached for screening; 27,714 (63.6%) consented to be screened. The final sample of persons with completed screens comprised 24,863 patients.


Quantity and frequency of alcohol use, demographics, social support measures, and measures of depression/anxiety.


Of the 24,863 older adults screened, 70.0% reported no consumption of alcohol in the past year, 21.5% were moderate drinkers (1–7 drinks/week), 4.1% were at-risk drinkers (8–14 drinks/week), and 4.5% were heavy (>14 drinks/week) or binge drinkers. Heavy drinking showed significant positive association with depressive/anxiety symptoms [Odds ratio (OR) (95% CI): 1.79 (1.30, 2.45)] and less social support [OR (95% CI): 2.01 (1.14, 2.56)]. Heavy drinking combined with binging was similarly positively associated with depressive/anxiety symptoms [OR (95%): 1.70 (1.33, 2.17)] and perceived poor health [OR (95% CI): 1.27 (1.03, 1.57)], while at-risk drinking was not associated with any of these variables.


The majority of participants were nondrinkers; among alcohol users, at-risk drinkers did not differ significantly from moderate drinkers in their characteristics or for the 3 health parameters evaluated. In contrast, heavy drinking was associated with depression and anxiety and less social support, and heavy drinking combined with binge drinking was associated with depressive/anxiety symptoms and perceived poor health.

Key words

elderly alcohol drinking patterns primary care 



The PRISM-E Study is sponsored jointly by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

PRISM-E Study investigators (in alphabetical order): Carolyn Aoyama (HRSA), Pat Arean (Co-PI), Stephen Bartels (PI), Hongtu Chen (PI), Henry Chung (Co-PI), Marisue Cody (Co-PI), Giuseppe Costantino (PI), U. Nalla B. Durai (PI), Carroll Estes (PI), Susan Cooley (VA), Jack Fitzpatrick (Co-PI), Brian Goodman (Co-PI), Trevor Hadley (Co-PI), Tim Howell (Co-PI), Ira Katz (Co-PI), JoAnn Kirchner (PI), Dean Krahn (PI), Sue Levkoff (PI), Karen Linkins (Co-PI), Maria Llorente (PI), James Maxwell (Co-PI), Keith Miles (Co-PI), Robert Molokie (Co-PI), Jack McIntyre (PI), Betsy McDonel Herr (SAMHSA), Mike Nazar (Co-PI), Ed Olsen (PI), David Oslin (PI), Tom Oxman (Co-PI), Andy Pomerantz (Co-PI), Louise Quijano (Co-PI), Heidi Syropoulos (Co-PI), William Van Stone (VA), Paul Wohlford (SAMHSA), Cynthia Zubritsky (PI). Finally, we thank Richard Owen for his thoughtful comments and suggestions during the revision of the manuscript and Penny White for her administrative support.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest

None disclosed.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • JoAnn E. Kirchner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 15
  • Cynthia Zubritsky
    • 4
  • Marisue Cody
    • 3
  • Eugenie Coakley
    • 5
  • Hongtu Chen
    • 6
  • James H. Ware
    • 7
  • David W. Oslin
    • 11
    • 12
  • Herman A. Sanchez
    • 14
  • U. Nalla B. Durai
    • 8
  • Keith M. Miles
    • 9
  • Maria D. Llorente
    • 10
  • Giuseppe Costantino
    • 13
  • Sue Levkoff
    • 6
  1. 1.VA South Central Mental Illness Research Education and Clinic CenterLittle RockUSA
  2. 2.University of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA
  3. 3.VA HSR&D Center for Mental Health and Outcomes ResearchLittle RockUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.John Snow, Inc.BostonUSA
  6. 6.Department of PsychiatryHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  7. 7.Harvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  8. 8.Chicago VA Health Care SystemChicagoUSA
  9. 9.Department of PsychiatryDartmouth Medical SchoolLebanonUSA
  10. 10.Miami VA Medical CenterUniversity of Miami School of MedicineMiami BeachUSA
  11. 11.Philadelphia VA Medical CenterPhiladelphiaUSA
  12. 12.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  13. 13.Sunset Park Family Health Center Network/Lutheran Medical CenterBrooklynUSA
  14. 14.Trinity Partners, Inc.WalthamUSA
  15. 15.HSR&D Center for Mental Health and Outcomes ResearchLittle RockUSA

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