Poll Finds Risky Drinking Patterns in Older Adults During Pandemic

Jun 9, 2021

As many older adults get back to normal life across the United States thanks to high rates of vaccination and lower COVID-19 activity, a new poll suggests many should watch their alcohol intake.

In all, 23% of adults over 50 who drink alcohol reported that they routinely had three or more drinks in one sitting, according to new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging. And 10% of adults who drink use other drugs while drinking, including marijuana or prescription medications that can interact with alcohol in risky ways.

The poll asked adults age 50 to 80 to reflect on their drinking habits shortly before the pandemic and during its first ten months. Routinely having three or more alcoholic drinks on any day they drink, and occasional binge drinking, are both considered signs of problematic drinking in any adult.

While overall only 14% of older adults who drink alcohol said their drinking increased during the first ten months of the pandemic, that percentage was much higher among the minority of older adults who said they drink as part of their routine, to boost their mood or to relax, or to cope with boredom, stress or pain. A third to half of such adults reported drinking more in the past year. Those who reported feeling isolated or lonely were also more likely to say they’d increased alcohol intake.

Among older adults who drink, 10% said there was a time when they thought they were drinking too much during the pandemic, though few of them had sought help.

Meanwhile, half of older adults say they mainly drink for social reasons. Members of this group were more likely to say they decreased their drinking in 2020. This suggests that as social interactions increase during the new phase of the pandemic, their alcohol consumption may rise.