Older adults mixing alcohol and meds

[Posted: Thu 03/07/2014 byDeborah Condon

Many older Irish people continue to drink alcohol despite being on prescribed medication which has the potential to be harmful if taken with alcohol, a new study has found.

According to researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), alcohol has the potential to interact harmfully with some prescription medicines. These are known as alcohol interactive (AI) medicines.

As the population ages, the number of people using AI medicines increases. The study set out to estimate the prevalence of alcohol use among older people taking these medicines.

It found that 72% of adults living in Ireland who are over the age of 60 are prescribed AI medicines. Among these, six in 10 reported drinking alcohol while using these medications.

Almost one in five older adults who were on heart and diabetes AI medicines admitted to heavy drinking, as did one in seven people on drugs for the central nervous system.

At least one in 10 people using AI medicines for epilepsy or psychosis also admitted to heavy drinking, as did one in six people taking antidepressants.

"Older adults are susceptible to adverse effects from the simultaneous use of prescription medications and alcohol, in part because of changes in absorption, distribution and metabolism of alcohol and other medication with age.

"The major adverse effects of mixing alcohol with such AI medicines can include the raising of blood alcohol levels, altering the metabolism of the drugs, liver toxicity, gastrointestinal inflammation and bleeding, sedation and interference with the overall effectiveness of the medication itself," noted the study's lead researcher, Dr Grainne Cousins, of the RCSI's School of Pharmacy.

She pointed out that mixing alcohol with drugs used to treat mental health problems, such as antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs, is an issue ‘of particular concern'.

"They may cause the most dangerous alcohol-related adverse drug reactions. For example, consumption of alcohol increases the sedative effects of benzodiazepines and anti-depressants, which can result in outcomes such as falls, motor vehicle accidents and even death," she said.

She added that these findings highlight the importance of patient education.

"Prescribers and pharmacists should be aware of potential interactions, screen their patients for alcohol use and provide warnings to minimise this risk to their patients."

Details of these findings are published in the journal,BMC Geriatrics.