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James W. Pennebaker, Chair The University of Texas at Austin, SEA 4.212, Austin, TX 78712 • (512) 475-7596

Moderate Drinking Helps Middle-Aged and Older People Live Longer, Research Shows

Posted: August 27, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Moderate drinking, about one to two drinks per day, reduces mortality among older and middle-aged adults, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

In a study to appear in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Charles Holahan, professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues at The University of Texas and Stanford University's Center for Health Care Evaluation found the health benefits of drinking among older adults are intrinsically linked to moderation.

Using data gathered from a larger study of late-life patterns of drinking, the researchers followed 1,824 older adults (1,142 men, 682 women) between the ages of 55 and 65 who were former or current drinkers for 20 years. The information collected included: daily alcohol consumption, sociodemographic factors, former problem-drinking status, health factors and social behavioral factors.

Findings show a substantial part of the survival effect for moderate drinking among older adults is explained by confounding factors associated with alcohol abstention. Compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers in the study sample included many former problem drinkers and individuals with more health problems and health risk factors (such as lower physical activity and more cigarette smoking) compared to moderate drinkers.

The researchers also found those who drank moderately were more likely to live longer across a 20-year follow-up than those who drank heavily or who didn't drink at all. The findings showed increases in mortality risk of 42 percent for heavy drinkers and 49 percent for abstainers in comparison to moderate drinkers.

Despite the health benefits of moderate drinking, Holahan emphasizes the need for common sense. One or two drinks a day may be beneficial for some, but drinking a lot more can be dangerous, he said.

"Older persons drinking alcohol should remember that consuming more than two drinks a day exceeds recommended alcohol consumption guidelines in the United States and is associated with increased falls, a higher risk of alcohol use problems and potential adverse interactions with medications," Holahan said.

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