Page last updated: December 4, 2018
Alcohol and medication use in mid to later life

Concurrent alcohol and medication use can result in significant problems especially in mid to later life. Alcohol is often used instead of medication for a number of health-related conditions. A study explored concurrent alcohol and medication use, as well as the use of alcohol for medicinal purposes, in a sample of individuals in mid to later life.

The study used data from 24 interviews (12 men/12 women, aged 51-90 years) and three focus groups (n = 27, 6 men/21 women, aged 50-95 years) from three branches of Age UK and two services for alcohol problems in North East England.

Older people in this study often combined alcohol and medication, frequently without discussing this with their family doctor. However, being prescribed medication could act as a motivating factor to stop or reduce alcohol consumption. Participants also used alcohol to self-medicate, to numb pain, aid sleep or cope with stress and anxiety. Some participants used alcohol to deal with depression although alcohol was also reported as a cause of depression. Women in this study reported using alcohol to cope with mental health problems while men were more likely to describe reducing their alcohol consumption as a consequence of being prescribed medication.

The researchers state that as older people often combine alcohol and medication, health professionals such as family doctors, community nurses, and pharmacists should consider older patients’ alcohol consumption prior to prescribing or dispensing medication and should monitor subsequent drinking. In particular, older people should be informed of the dangers of concurrent alcohol and medication use.

Source: ‘I take my tablets with the whiskey’: A qualitative study of alcohol and medication use in mid to later life. Haighton C, Kidd J, O’Donnell A, Wilson G, McCabe K, Ling J. PLoS One. 2018 Oct 18;13(10):e0205956.
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