Alcohol use among younger adults is not associated with health benefits; in older adults, it can be risky.
A new health study published in The Lancet and based on three decades worth of data on individuals ages 15 to 95 shows that there is no significant benefits to drinking alcohol in moderation for those under the age of 40. This information is in contrast to prior research which has largely focused on moderate drinking among all ages of adults and heart health.
In the current study, the team reported that alcohol does not protect a person from hypertension (high blood pressure), epilepsy or various cancers, although they indicated that a small amount might help reduce symptoms of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in people 40 and over (not under 40).
Those under 40 could actually be more vulnerable to negative outcomes aligned with their drinking habits, including motor vehicle accidents, homicide, suicide, and addiction. The potentially fatal risks that come along with intoxication far outweigh perceived health benefits.
A senior research fellow at a UK research group said that the majority of alcohol-related deaths occur in the elderly population, however. This is important because the U.S. has witnessed an increase in alcohol use among older adults and seniors since the onset of the pandemic.
A National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted in 2021 asked adults ages 50 to 80 to reflect on their drinking habits before the pandemic and during its first ten months. It found that of the only “14% of older adults who drink alcohol…their drinking increased during the first ten months of the pandemic.” It also reported an increase among those adults who said they drank as part of their daily routine in order to “boost mood or to relax, to cope with boredom, or manage stress or pain.”
“Even before the pandemic, heavier and more risky drinking habits were increasing in older adults at a faster rate than among younger adults,” said Anne Fernandez, Ph.D., a psychologist in the U-M Department of Psychiatry who specializes in studying alcohol use. She worked with the team on the poll.
Fernandez continued in 2021, “While not every older adult who drank more during the past year may have gone from non-risky to risky drinking, but the overall level of drinking, and the potential for interaction with other substances, is very concerning. As we all toast the end of the worst part of the pandemic in our country, it’s important to address or prevent problematic drinking of all kinds.”
A high level of alcohol use at any age can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time. For those who are genetically predisposed to developing this disorder, there is a chance that the timeframe before becoming addicted will be much shorter. Once the brain and body succumb to addiction, users become wrapped up in a cycle of drinking to manage symptoms of withdrawal, including extreme anxiety, and in severe cases, delirium tremors, seizures, and even death. Medical attention is usually required to detox from alcohol safely and enter sobriety.
With the current study’s results indicating no significant health improvements associated with drinking, especially for adults 40 and younger, and past studies showing an increase in risky behavior among older adults, for some, it may be best to avoid alcohol altogether.