Study Examines Impact of Alcohol on Health, Drug Interactions in Older Women


Five risk factors increased the likelihood of problematic alcohol consumption in older women.

Although men generally consume more alcohol than women, the health issues caused by alcohol consumption are more severe in elderly women than men because of genetic differences. Elderly individuals are more likely to develop health issues related to alcohol consumption, such as chronic disease and negative medical interactions. However, healthcare professionals tend to neglect old women’s alcohol problems because of bias and difficulty starting the conversation.

To understand elderly women’s alcohol consumption problems better, a team of researchers studied the demographic factors associated with alcohol consumption patterns. Their results are published in a recent issue of Journal of Women & Aging.1

The researchers cataloged all participants’ alcohol consumption as binge, moderate, or no alcohol consumption, and concluded that among elderly women aged 50 to 64 years, 5 risk factors increased the likelihood of problematic alcohol consumption: African American or Hispanic race, low income, less education, not married—widowed, divorced, separated, and excellent or good health. These results are consistent with study results in younger women who consume alcohol.1

The study included 21,535 participants aged 50 years and older from the 2012-2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The authors eliminated 537 participants who missed 1 or more survey responses, leading to a final analytical sample of 21,178 participants.1

The most unexpected result, according to the researchers, was the high prevalence rate of problematic alcohol consumption among elderly Hispanic woman. This finding suggests that more research on this demographic is required to fully understand how acculturation shapes alcohol consumption patterns.1

A good appreciation of the factors that influence alcohol consumption identified in this study can help health care professionals develop more effective counseling for elderly women that misuse alcohol. The demographic factors identified can also heighten health care professionals’ awareness of at-risk groups among elderly women, and target care.

Concerning pharmacists, consumed alcohol interacts with many medications, and patients may not honestly report their alcohol consumption. The researchers have concluded that alcohol can interact pharmacokinetically and pharmacodynamically with prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication.2 Blood alcohol levels can be elevated to a dangerous degree if patients are taking H2 receptor blockers or aspirin blocking the ADH enzyme activities.

In addition, patients with chronic alcohol consumption problems may develop hepatictoxicity if they take acetaminophen for pain relief. Even when patients realize that their alcohol use is causing liver damage and stop drinking, the risk remains elevated. Abrupt alcohol cessation might cause unopposed CYP2E1-mediated acetaminophen metabolism and subsequent liver damage.

Alcohol also interacts with cephalosporins, metronidazole, sulfonamides, isoniazid, some antifungals, and sulfonylureas. It increases the CNS depressant activity of many drugs. When used with nitrites, it can cause orthostatic hypotension. And, the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding increases when individuals consume alcohol with NSAIDs.2

The research team suggests that additional research is required to better understand alcohol consumption in elderly women in different racial and ethnic minority groups.1

Muzi Hua is a 2023 PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.


  • Solomon CA, Laditka SB, Forthofer M, Racine EF. Alcohol consumption among older women in the United States. J Women Aging. 2019 Oct 26:1-18.
  • Maideen NMP. Clinically important and pharmacologically relevant drug interactions with alcohol. Am J Res Med SCi. 2019;6(1):1-7.

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