Alcohol use among Americans has risen over the past year, as many have turned to the bottle as a way to cope with stress, loneliness and boredom during the pandemic. Now a new poll suggests that while most older adults drink moderately, if at all, a significant number report heavier and more risky alcohol use, such as combining alcohol with other drugs.
The poll, conducted by the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, surveyed a national sample of adults age 50 to 80 about their alcohol use and reasons for drinking. It found that while two-thirds of such older adults reported drinking alcohol at least occasionally in the past year, more than 60 percent limited it to four times a month or less. Surprisingly, over 85 percent reported no change in their alcohol use during this time, or even a decrease.
These results dovetail with other recent research that found that younger people were the most likely to hit the sauce during the pandemic. In fact, about 40 percent of adults under age 40 reported increased alcohol use compared to only 20 percent of those over age 60, according to a study published earlier this year in the medical journal Preventive Medicine.
But both studies found that older adults who experienced emotions like stress, anxiety and depression were more likely to report heavy alcohol use. “Those who reported only drinking socially may have seen their alcohol use drop, because they were staying home more,” explains poll coauthor Anne Fernandez, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Addiction Center. “But we did see an increase among people who reported that they used alcohol to cope with feelings of loneliness, stress or anxiety, all of which were obviously increased during the pandemic."