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A cocktail recipe for disaster: Alcohol and meds don’t mix for older Aussies

Older Australians who consume alcohol while taking common prescription medications are putting their health at serious risk new research says.

“While drinking levels in young people are reducing, we’re seeing older Australians actually increasing their alcohol consumption,” said Edith Cowan University researcher Dr Stephen Bright.

“This trend is concerning because older Australians are at increased risk of experiencing health complications from alcohol since they are more likely to have a chronic illness that alcohol can exacerbate and make more difficult to treat.

“They are also likely to be prescribed an average of four medications and be taking several herbal supplements.”

Bright says that when older people mix medications with alcohol, there is an increased risk of developing serious side effects and alcohol can even reduce the effectiveness of some drugs.

“That could lead to psychiatric symptoms, stomach ulcers or cardiovascular events. And in some cases, it can be fatal,” he said.

The study looked at the alcohol and medication consumption of 72 older adults discharged from a Victorian-based alcohol and other drugs treatment service.

It found that of those who were drinking alcohol at hazardous levels, 92 per cent were also taking at least one medication that placed them at high risk of serious adverse side-effects.

Dr Bright said his findings highlight the need for specific alcohol guidelines for older people in conjunction with alcohol monitoring by health care professionals, and patients themselves, as part of general health check-ups.

“There’s not enough awareness about what a safe level of drinking is, particularly for older people and those also taking medications,” he said.

“We need to encourage more people to have the conversation with their doctor, pharmacist or health care professional so that they can look at alternative medications or give advice on what a safe level of drinking is, if any.”

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