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More than a quarter of over-65s at risk of harm from mixing alcohol and medication

Alcohol-medication interactions can cause accidents, problems with blood pressure, and liver damage.

Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

MORE THAN A quarter of older adults are vulnerable to harm caused by mixing alcohol and medication, a new study has found.

The study, which is from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), found that one in four adults over the age of 65 are at risk of issues with blood sugar and blood pressure, gastrointestinal bleeds and liver damage caused by interactions between alcohol and medications.

Additionally, mixing alcohol and medication can lead to a form of sedation, which can cause falls and other accidents.

The study found that 67% of older adults drink alcohol, while 27% were heavy drinkers who drank more than 6 standard drinks on one occasion or above a standard weekly amount (11 standard drinks for women and 17 standard drinks for men).

Of all older adults, 28% were considered at risk of potential harm from interactions between alcohol and medications.

Among older adults who reported drinking alcohol, 42% are at risk from mixing alcohol and medications.

One in five of older adults were at risk of two or more potentially serious interactions.

RCSI lecturer and pharmacist Dr Alice Holton said that the findings suggest that “older adults are at greatest risk of potentially serious alcohol-medication interactions due to their concurrent use of alcohol with cardiovascular agents, and with medications which act on the central nervous system”.

Cardiovascular agents are medicines that treat heart or blood vessel conditions.

The study interviewed 1,599 older adults living at home and examined their drug dispensing records in their community pharmacies.

The study said that the use of multiple medications increases with age, which can make older adults particularly at risk of alcohol-medication interaction.

The use of multiple medicines that have the potential to cause harm to older adults when combined with alcohol was associated adults in the lower range of the over-65 age category, males, and having more than one disease or conditions.

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The RCSI study recommends that criteria previously developed by RCSI researchers for medicines that have potentially serious alcohol-medication interactions (POSAMINO) should be used in prescribing or dispensing medicines to manage the risk.

RCSI Principal Investigator and Senior Lecturer Dr Gráinne Cousins said that this could “lead to prioritising alcohol screenings and brief alcohol interventions for those at greater risk of harm”.

“Discussing the risk of alcohol more broadly and alcohol–medication interactions more specifically at the point of prescribing or dispensing may reduce the risk of harm arising from the concurrent use of alcohol and medications, since many patients may simply be unaware of the potential risk, and once informed may reduce their alcohol consumption,” the study said.

“Others may benefit from a brief intervention or referral to specialist services,” it said.

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