Newswise — Older adults – those more than 50 years of age – who consume alcohol beyond healthy drinking guidelines are a growing public health concern. A new study has found that using text messaging can help reduce drinking among this population. These findings will be shared at the 45th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Orlando, Florida.

“Continued alcohol and other drug use into late life is increasing,” explained Alexis Kuerbis, associate professor at Hunter College – CUNY. “This is due to a number of factors, including a greater cultural acceptance of alcohol use compared to previous generations, and older adults continuing their drinking habits from middle age into later life. As a result, large proportions of older adults – 15 to 22 percent – report high-risk drinking.” Kuerbis will present her research at the RSA meeting on Tuesday June 28, 2022.

Beginning around age 50, she noted, the body and the brain go through developmental changes that reduce the ability to digest alcohol and/or to accurately perceive its effects, such as intoxication. This is further complicated by the development of medical conditions or mental health conditions later in life – such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease – that may make consuming any alcohol harmful.

“In addition, there are several barriers to substance use treatment for older adults, including a lack of transportation; shame and fear of stigma; wanting to deal with their problems privately – especially among women – and providers/physicians in primary care with little time for brief interventions,” she said. “Text messaging is a cost-effective way to address these barriers by engaging with older adults in the privacy of their home, directly, and without fear of stigma or shame.” She added that roughly 92 percent of older adults report having mobile phones and using text messaging, making it an optimal medium for psychoeducation and preliminary intervention.

Researchers collected and compared data from 731 participants in order to test the effectiveness of 12 weeks of text messaging designed to reduce hazardous drinking. The participants ranged in age from 21 to 69 years, were recruited online from across the nation, and 18.9% were 50 years of age and older.

“Text messages were tailored by gender, age, and other demographics and were aimed at several targets, such as coping with craving, increasing motivation for reduced use, and increasing self-efficacy to reduce use,” said Kuerbis. “For adults 50 years and older, we tailored messaging by age to include life-stage psychoeducation. For example: ‘As you age, you metabolize alcohol more slowly. That means you suffer worse consequences with fewer drinks in your system;’ and ‘Feeling tired or run down and blaming it on age? It might be the alcohol. Many people confuse the negative effects of alcohol for ‘normal aging.’"

“We found that older adults can and do engage with mobile technology, and almost all use text messaging,” said Kuerbis, “contrary to the stereotypes of older adults as technophobic or incapable of using technology. In addition, text messaging to reduce hazardous drinking is effective across all age groups, including those 50 and older.” She recommended that future research address more specific messaging for older adults to focus on the pros of reduced drinking.



Meeting Link: RSA 2022 meeting