'Drink is the drug of choice for baby boomers'
Up to 40 percent of older New Zealanders are engaging in hazardous drinking, a study has found.
Researchers from Massey University and the University of Auckland explored the prevalence of hazardous drinking in 4000 New Zealanders aged 50 years and over.
Hazardous drinking was defined as alcohol consumption that puts the person at risk of immediate harm, such as hospitalisation, or long-term harm such as cancer.
About half of older males and a quarter of older females were hazardous drinkers.
Research co-leader Dr Andy Towers said he wasn't surprised by the results.
"What we know from around the world is that we have a cohort of baby boomers that are drinking much, much more than any previous generation of retirees before.
"Drink is the drug of choice for baby boomers."
While awareness campaigns mainly focus on binge drinking in young people, little is known about harmful alcohol consumption in older adults.
"Our discussions about alcohol use shouldn't just be about binge drinking or whether someone has a problem... hazardous drinking is about how much you're drinking and whether - even it's a low amount - whether it's appropriate if you have medication use and [if] you have certain health conditions."
There are greater risks for older drinkers as their bodies become more sensitive to alcohol, Dr Towers said.
"We're not down to the point where we can provide really nuanced information or guidelines, we just say, in general, if you have this and you have this and you're taking medication, you really shouldn't drink."
The research team is now working with the Health Promotion Agency with the intention of developing a GP alcohol screening tool.
"One of the big problems we have is that a lot of GPs, a lot of practice nurses, feel uncomfortable talking to older adults about alcohol.
"We need to start talking about alcohol use with our parents and our grandparents."
The study reveals that New Zealand youth drinking culture is actually a "New Zealand culture" issue, Mr Towers said.