10-year Trajectories of Alcohol Consumption in Older Adult New Zealanders

Objectives Older adults are often treated as a homogeneous drinking group, but research suggests that they engage with alcohol in various ways, ranging from abstention to heavy drinking. The study aimed to (i) identify subgroups of older adults based on changes in frequency and quantity of alcohol use over 10 years and (ii) examine co-occurring changes in mental and physical health. Method Data were collected biennially between 2006 and 2016 from 2,632 New Zealanders (55–70 years old at baseline). Latent class growth analysis was performed to identify trajectories of alcohol use. Co-occurring changes in physical and mental health were examined using latent growth curve analysis. Results Five drinking profiles emerged: (i) infrequent, low-quantity consumers; (ii) highly frequent, low-quantity consumers; (iii) moderately frequent, high-quantity consumers; (iv) moderately frequent, low-quantity consumers; and (v) highly frequent, high-quantity consumers. Drinking trajectories demonstrated no change or slight declines in frequency and quantity over time. Frequent and moderately frequent, high-quantity drinking was more prevalent among men, younger participants, and active smokers. Moderately frequent, heavy drinkers were in very poor health. Frequent and moderately frequent, low-quantity drinking was associated with better health and economic well-being. Infrequent, low-quantity consumers were more likely to be women and in poor health. Discussion The five drinking profiles indicate that older adults engage with alcohol in diverse ways. Two of these patterns indicated potentially hazardous use, which highlights the need for screening and intervention in this age group.