Older Australians drinking more heavily

Many older Australians are drinking at risky levels, and the wealthy are drinking more than most, according to new research from La Trobe University.

A study published today in Drug and Alcohol Review found 17 per cent of Australians aged over 60 are consuming more than the recommended maximum of 14 standard drinks per week or no more than five standard drink in a single drinking occasion, while a third of risky drinkers are in the highest income bracket ($128,388 to $217,048).

La Trobe Centre for Alcohol Policy Research researchers, who analysed 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey data from 7976 Australians aged over 60, hope the findings will influence healthy policies.

They found 54 per cent of risky drinkers over 60 years have experienced at least one of the following seven harms in a one-year period:

  • Loss of memory after drinking
  • Inability to stop drinking once starting
  • Failure to do what is normally expected of them
  • Needing a drink first thing in the morning to start their day
  • Feeling guilt or remorse
  • Injury to self or others
  • Causing concern to others in relation to alcohol consumption

Lead researcher Dr Jason (Heng) Jiang said the results are highly concerning.

“While risky drinking is associated with negative economic, social and health impacts at any age, older adults are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol due to physiological changes which occur with aging, health conditions, and medication use,” Dr Jiang said.

“Increased susceptibility to alcohol means older adults are more vulnerable to some kinds of alcohol related harm, even when drinking at relatively low levels.”

The researchers found risky drinking in males was three times higher than that of females, while 93 percent of the group did their drinking at home.

Men aged 60-69 years, of higher socioeconomic status, who had no dependents, were not employed and were either current or ex-smokers, were more likely to report risky drinking.

“We discovered 31 per cent of all risky drinkers surveyed were in the highest income bracket,” Dr Jiang said.

“This means interventions aimed at older drinkers need to focus beyond socio-economically disadvantaged groups who are often the target of alcohol control policy and related health promotion.”

The majority of men and women surveyed – 93 per cent of risky drinkers and 80 per cent of lower risk drinkers – chose to drink at home.

“With most of risky drinking behaviour occurring at home, encouraging self-moderation and controlling accessibility to take-away alcohol could be a good first step to reducing heavy alcohol intake,” Dr Jiang said.


The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is in the process of updating the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (2009) to reflect the most recent and best available evidence on the health effects of alcohol consumption, to be released late 2020.

Media Contact: Dragana Mrkaja – d.mrkaja@latrobe.edu.au – 0447 508 171