Alcohol Abuse in Older People – presentation and scope of the problem – a clinical review


Alcohol abuse is recognised as a serious problem in the UK and there is a strong correlation between average consumption, the prevalence of heavy drinking and associated harm. Alcohol abuse disorders are thought to be common in older people and associated with impairments in physical, psychological, social and cognitive wellbeing. The effects of co-morbidity, medication and age may exacerbate the risks of alcohol abuse. We conducted a review of published literature using a defined search strategy of electronic databases, including articles in English, between 1960-2004. This yielded 74 papers that matched the search criteria. Six papers were selected for detailed analysis. Alcohol abuse in older people has a prevalence of between 1-4% in the general population, rising to between 7-22% in inpatients and 23-44% for psychiatric inpatients. The health-related effects of alcohol use in older people are still uncertain. Neither screening for elderly alcohol abuse in a general population nor the use of validated tools such as the CAGE questionnaire may not be effective in the general population. However, for rapid assessment in a clinical setting, the CAGE questionnaire, with a cut-off score of >=2, will effectively discriminate older patients with a history of drinking problems from those without such a history. In the UK there has been little high-quality research reporting the prevalence, identification and treatment of alcohol use disorders in older people. There is a clear need for a specific research programme to address these issues in line with the government’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and the NSF for Older People.

How to Cite

Hassey, A., Wilkinson, H., Newell, J. & Rossall, H., (2004) “Alcohol Abuse in Older People – presentation and scope of the problem – a clinical review”, Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 1(1). doi:


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Alan Hassey
Helen Wilkinson
James Newell
Hannah Rossall






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