Skip to main content Accessibility help

Understanding older adults' attitudes and beliefs about drinking: perspectives of residents in congregate living



Drinking motives may change as adults age, yet few studies in the United States of America have examined older adults' perspectives about their own drinking habits. The current study explored beliefs and attitudes of alcohol use of retired adults residing in a congregate care setting in the Baltimore/Washington DC metro area. Individual interviews were conducted with a sub-sample of 11 individuals who participated in a daily diary study on alcohol use among older adults. All participants in the study were identified as regular drinkers, meaning they had an alcoholic beverage on at least six of the eight days prior to screening. The participants' mean age was 81.5 years with a majority being women (54.5%). Older adults reported alcohol use as a long-term habit or routine. Participants also recognised that their alcohol use was influenced by peer drinking and by the availability of alcohol at the congregate care setting. Participants normalised their drinking as a form of routine socialisation carried from earlier life stages. Participants did not report reactive drinking, suggesting that older drinkers do not see their alcohol use as driven by specific reactions to life stresses or losses associated with ageing. The study also indicates that drinking may provide older adults in congregate care with a sense of continuity from before retirement and preserve their identity and autonomy.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Karen Burruss, School of Social Work, University of Maryland Baltimore, 525 West Redwood Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. E-mail:


Hide All
Aira, M., Hartikainen, S. and Sulkava, R. 2008. Drinking alcohol for medicinal purposes by people aged over 75: a community-based interview study. Family Practice, 25, 6, 445–9.
Akers, R. L., La Greca, A. J., Cochran, J. and Sellers, C. 1989. Social learning theory and alcohol behavior among the elderly. Sociological Quarterly, 30, 4, 625–38.
Atchley, R. C. 1989. A continuity theory of normal aging. Gerontologist, 29, 2, 183–90.
Bacharach, S. B., Bamberger, P. A., Cohen, A. and Doveh, E. 2007. Retirement, social support, and drinking behavior: a cohort analysis of males with a baseline history of problem drinking. Journal of Drug Issues, 37, 3, 525–48.
Barnes, A. J., Moore, A. A., Xu, H., Ang, A., Tallen, L., Mirkin, M. and Ettner, S. L. 2010. Prevalence and correlates of at-risk drinking among older adults: the project SHARE study. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 25, 8, 840–6.
Blow, F. C., Brockmann, L. M. and Barry, K. L. 2004. Role of alcohol in late-life suicide. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 28, S1, 48S56S.
Borson, S., Scanlan, J. M., Chen, P. and Ganguli, M. 2003. The Mini-Cog as a screen for dementia: validation in a population-based sample. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 51, 10, 1451–4.
Brennan, P. L., Schutte, K. K. and Moos, R. H. 2005. Pain and use of alcohol to manage pain: prevalence and 3-year outcomes among older problem and non-problem drinkers. Addiction, 100, 6, 777–86.
Bryant, A. N. and Kim, G. 2013. The relation between frequency of binge drinking and psychological distress among older adult drinkers. Journal of Aging and Health, 25, 7, 1243–57.
Castle, N. G., Wagner, L. M., Ferguson-Rome, J. C., Smith, M. L. and Handler, S. M. 2011. Alcohol misuse and abuse reported by nurse aides in assisted living. Research on Aging, 34, 3, 321–36.
Crabtree, B. F. and Miller, W. L. 1999. Using codes and code manuals: a template organizing style of interpretation. In Crabtree, B. F. and Miller, W. L. (eds), Doing Qualitative Research. Sage, Thousand Oaks, California, 163–77.
Ferreira, M. P. and Weems, M. K. S. 2008. Alcohol consumption by aging adults in the United States: health benefits and detriments. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108, 10, 1668–76.
Gfroerer, J., Penne, M., Pemberton, M. and Folsom, R. 2003. Substance abuse treatment need among older adults in 2020: the impact of the baby-boom cohort. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 69, 2, 127–35.
Gilson, K.-M., Bryant, C., Bei, B., Komiti, A., Jackson, H. and Judd, F. 2013. Validation of the Drinking Motives Questionnaire (DMQ) in older adults. Addictive Behaviors, 38, 5, 2196–202.
Han, B., Gfroerer, J., Colliver, J. D. and Penne, M. A. 2009. Substance use disorder among older adults in the United States in 2020. Addiction, 104, 1, 8896.
Holahan, C. J., Schutte, K. K., Brennan, P. L., Holahan, C. K., Moos, B. S. and Moos, R. H. 2010. Late-life alcohol consumption and 20-year mortality. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 34, 11, 1961–71.
Immonen, S., Valvanne, J. and Pitkälä, K. H. 2011. Older adults’ own reasoning for their alcohol consumption. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26, 11, 1169–76.
Lang, I., Guralnik, J., Wallace, R. B. and Melzer, D. 2007. What level of alcohol consumption is hazardous for older people? Functioning and mortality in U.S. and English national cohorts. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55, 1, 4957.
Lemke, S., Brennan, P. L., Schutte, K. K. and Moos, R. H. 2007. Upward pressures on drinking: exposure and reactivity in adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs, 68, 3, 437–45.
McCaul, K. A., Almeida, O. P., Hankey, G. J., Jamrozik, K., Byles, J. E. and Flicker, L. 2010. Alcohol use and mortality in older men and women. Addiction, 105, 8, 1391–400.
Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M. and Saldaña, J. 2013. Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook. Sage, Thousand Oaks, California.
Moore, A. A., Karno, M. P., Grella, C. E., Lin, J. C., Warda, U., Liao, D. H. and Hu, P. 2009. Alcohol, tobacco, and nonmedical drug use in older U.S. adults: data from the 2001/02 National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 57, 12, 2275–81.
Moore, A. A., Whiteman, E. J. and Ward, K. T. 2007. Risks of combined alcohol/medication use in older adults. American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy, 5, 1, 6474.
Mukamal, K. J., Chung, H., Jenny, N. S., Kuller, L. H., Longstreth, W. T. Jr., Mittleman, M. A., Burke, G. L., Cushman, M., Psaty, B. M. and Siscovick, D. S. 2006. Alcohol consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 54, 1, 30–7.
Mukamal, K. J., Kuller, L. H., Fitzpatrick, A. L., Longstreth, W. T. Jr., Mittleman, M. A. and Siscovick, D. S. 2003. Prospective study of alcohol consumption and risk of dementia in older adults. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 289, 11, 1405–13.
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2010. Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2014. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Available online at Accessed on January 6, 2014.
Neugarten, B. L., Moore, J. W. and Lowe, J. C. 1965. Age norms, age constraints, and adult socialization. American Journal of Sociology, 70, 6, 710–7.
Resnick, B. 2003. Alcohol use in a continuing care retirement community. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 29, 10, 22–9.
Roepke, S. K. and Ancoli-Israel, S. 2010. Sleep disorders in the elderly. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 131, 2, 302–10.
Sacco, P., Bucholz, K. K. and Spitznagel, E. L. 2009. Alcohol use among older adults in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions: a latent class analysis. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 70, 6, 829–38.
Sacco, P., Burruss, K., Smith, C., Kuerbis, A., Harrington, D., Moore, A. A. and Resnick, B. Drinking behavior among older adults at a continuing care retirement community: affective and motivational influences. Aging & Mental Health, in press-a. doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.93330.
Sacco, P., Kuerbis, A., Goge, N. and Bucholz, K. K. 2013. Help seeking for drug and alcohol problems among adults age 50 and older: a comparison of the NLAES and NESARC surveys. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 131, 1/2, 157–61.
Sacco, P., Smith, C. A., Harrington, D., Svoboda, D. V. and Resnick, B.Feasibility and utility of experience sampling to assess alcohol consumption among older adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, in press-b. doi: 10.1177/07334648135.
Satre, D. D. and Arean, P. A. 2005. Effects of gender, ethnicity, and medical illness on drinking cessation in older primary care patients. Journal of Aging and Health, 17, 1, 7084.
Shaw, B. A., Krause, N., Liang, J. and McGeever, K. 2011. Age differences in long-term patterns of change in alcohol consumption among aging adults. Journal of Aging and Health, 23, 2, 207–27.
Sorock, G. S., Chen, L. H., Gonzalgo, S. R. and Baker, S. P. 2006. Alcohol-drinking history and fatal injury in older adults. Alcohol, 40, 3, 193–9.
Tolvanen, E. and Jylhä, M. 2005. Alcohol in life story interviews with Finnish people aged 90 or over: stories of gendered morality. Journal of Aging Studies, 19, 4, 419–35.
Wilson, G. B., Kaner, E. F. S., Crosland, A., Ling, J., McCabe, K. and Haighton, C. A. 2013. A qualitative study of alcohol, health and identities among UK adults in later life. PLoS ONE, 8, 8, e71792.


Understanding older adults' attitudes and beliefs about drinking: perspectives of residents in congregate living



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed