Hidden Harm: up to 40% of older Kiwis drink hazardously

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New research by Massey University shows that between 35-40% of New Zealanders may drink hazardously. A research team from Massey University's School of Health Sciences and the University of Auckland's Centre for Addiction Research, funded by the Health Promotion Agency (HPA), explored the prevalence of hazardous drinking using data from more than 4,000 New Zealanders aged 50 years or older from the Massey University Health, Work and Retirement Longitudinal Study.

The research focused on older adults, as they are more at risk of harm from alcohol than younger drinkers.

The team found that 83 per cent of older New Zealanders in this sample were current drinkers, and between 35 to 40 per cent were considered 'hazardous drinkers'. This means that their level of drinking - either on its own or in combination with health conditions and medication use - increased their risk of immediate harm (e.g., blackout, hospitalisation) or long-term harm (e.g., worsening health, death). Approximately half of older males (46 to 50 per cent) were hazardous drinkers, compared to around a quarter of older females (25 to 31 per cent).
Professor Janie Sheridan and Dr David Newcombe, research co-leaders from the University of Auckland, noted the importance these findings for informing alcohol screening practice. "This research highlights the need to screen all older patients for alcohol use, regardless of their presenting problem," Professor Sheridan says. "We found that many older New Zealanders are drinking hazardously, and many of those who are most at-risk see their GPs at least three times a year. This makes primary health care a perfect setting for identifying and helping older at-risk drinkers."

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