Alcohol Use among Older Adults

Publisert 15. mai 2023 | Sist oppdatert 15. mai 2023

This is a scoping review of alcohol use among older adults, informed by Arksey and O’Malley’s methodological framework. It includes 51 research and development studies with empirical data from Scandinavia, published between 2014 and 2022 in either Scandinavian languages or English. International reviews are also included if they have particular relevance to a Norwegian context. The purpose of this scoping review is to identify, describe, and summarise knowledge relevant to health and care services in the municipalities regarding alcohol use among older adults.

The included publications show that alcohol use among older people has increased in Norway in recent decades. Eight out of 10 individuals between the ages of 60 and 79 report
that they consume alcohol. There is still a larger proportion of older men who drink – and who drink often – compared to older women, but the gender differences in alcohol use
have narrowed. Older people most often drink wine, and it is also most common for them to consume one or two units in a normal drinking situation. Three out of ten older individuals who regularly drink alcohol (once or more per week) also report using prescription drugs with addiction potential.

Alcohol use is identified as a leading risk factor for disease burden worldwide. For older people, alcohol use can be particularly challenging due to reduced body fluid and mass, as well as a reduced metabolism. It can exacerbate existing health conditions and increase the risk of accidents and falls. Additionally, combining alcohol with drugs that have addiction potential can lead to several negative health consequences.

Studies indicate that older individuals often do not recognise or have a lack of knowledge about the risks associated with drinking alcohol. Alcohol is often associated with social involvement, social gatherings, and enjoyment of life. Several of the included studies, however, also show that alcohol consumption is associated with experienced difficulties such as social isolation, stress, and illness, as well as significant life transitions such as retirement or the loss of close relationships.

At the service level, the included studies reveal that few municipalities and districts map the need for mental health and drug-related services for the elderly, incorporate alcohol use as a theme in preventive home visits, or conduct competency-enhancing measures for healthcare personnel. Alcohol use among older adults or combined use of alcohol and addictive drugs are often considered taboo or private matters, and health professionals find these issues challenging to address.