Binge Drinking at Old Age Increases Risk of Early Death

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By Roshni Mahesh | March 6, 2014 9:34 PM EST

Binge drinking at old age may shorten life expectancy, researchers warn.

Binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking is the practice of heavy consumption of alcohol- 60 grams or more of pure alcohol- at a single session. Drinking five or more drinks for men and four or more for women can be considered as binge drinking. Nearly 1.5 percent of drinkers in the world engage in weekly binge drinking, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

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Binge drinking at old age may shorten life expectancy, researchers warn.

A study reported in the Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found an increased risk of early death associated with weekend binge drinking in mid-50 and 60's. In the study, people who engaged in binge drinking doubled their risk of dying within a 20 year period than regular moderate drinkers.

Charles J. Holahan and colleagues followed 446 people, both men (334) and women (112) aged between 55 and 65 for 20 years. Of the total, 74 were moderate drinkers, who engaged in binge drinking.  

Researchers found that drinking patterns of a person and the quantity he/she consumed clearly predicted life expectancy.

"We found that among older adults, those who engage in heavy episodic drinking - even when average consumption is moderate - shows significantly increased total mortality risk compared to regular moderate drinkers," Charles J. Holahan, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, said in a news release. "These findings demonstrate that, among older adults, drinking patterns need to be addressed along with overall consumption in order to understand alcohol's health effects."

Researchers, concerned with their findings also cautioned that binge drinking at any age is highly harmful. "Binge drinking concentrates alcohol's toxicity and is linked to mortality by damaging body organs and increasing accident risk," Holahan said. "Binge drinking may be additionally risky for older adults due to ageing-related elevations in comorbidities as well as medication use."

Though moderate drinking is known to improve life expectancy, many studies in the past have shown the risk of excessive drinking. A study published in BMJ early this year, pointed out that addiction to alcohol shortens life expectancy in Russia. It was found that 25 percent of its men did not live beyond the age of 55.

According to health experts from the NHS Choices, UK, daily consumption of more than two to four units of alcohol is unsafe and can pose severe health risks, including cancer on the neck, throat, breast, liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure, poor sleep, depression, weight gain, heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and sexual problems. 

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Binge drinking at old age may shorten life expectancy, researchers warn.
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