Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 28, Issue 10, pp 1326–1332 | Cite as

Drinking Patterns of Older Adults with Chronic Medical Conditions

  • Marian Ryan
  • Elizabeth L. Merrick
  • Dominic Hodgkin
  • Constance M. Horgan
  • Deborah W. Garnick
  • Lee Panas
  • Grant Ritter
  • Frederic C. Blow
  • Richard Saitz
Original Research



Understanding alcohol consumption patterns of older adults with chronic illness is important given the aging baby boomer generation, the increase in prevalence of chronic conditions and associated medication use, and the potential consequences of excessive drinking in this population.


To estimate the prevalence of alcohol consumption patterns, including at-risk drinking, in older adults with at least one of seven common chronic conditions.


This descriptive study used the nationally representative 2005 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey linked with Medicare claims. The sample included community-dwelling, fee-for-service beneficiaries 65 years and older with one or more of seven chronic conditions (Alzheimer’s disease and other senile dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, and stroke; n = 7,422). Based on self-reported alcohol consumption, individuals were categorized as nondrinkers, within-guidelines drinkers, or at-risk drinkers (exceeds guidelines).


Overall, 30.9 % (CI 28.0–34.1 %) of older adults with at least one of seven chronic conditions reported alcohol consumption in a typical month in the past year, and 6.9 % (CI 6.0–7.8 %) reported at-risk drinking. Older adults with higher chronic disease burdens were less likely to report alcohol consumption and at-risk drinking.


Nearly one-third of older adults with selected chronic illnesses report drinking alcohol and almost 7 % drink in excess of National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) guidelines. It is important for physicians and patients to discuss alcohol consumption as a component of chronic illness management. In cases of at-risk drinking, providers have an opportunity to provide brief intervention or to offer referrals if needed.


at-risk drinking alcohol consumption Medicare beneficiaries chronic conditions older adults 




This study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant 5R21AA015746.


All listed authors made substantive contributions to the design, conduct, or reporting of this study.

There are no other individuals who made substantial contributions but do not meet criteria for authorship. The authors thank Michele Hutcheon for manuscript preparation.

Prior Presentations

Addiction Health Services Research Conference 10/18/12 NY.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marian Ryan
    • 1
  • Elizabeth L. Merrick
    • 1
  • Dominic Hodgkin
    • 1
  • Constance M. Horgan
    • 1
  • Deborah W. Garnick
    • 1
  • Lee Panas
    • 1
  • Grant Ritter
    • 1
  • Frederic C. Blow
    • 2
    • 3
  • Richard Saitz
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Heller School for Social Policy and ManagementBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Veterans AffairsHealth Services Research and DevelopmentAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Michigan Medical SchoolAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Clinical Addiction Research and Education Unit, Section of General Internal MedicineBoston Medical Center and Boston University School of MedicineBostonUSA
  5. 5.Department of EpidemiologyBoston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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