Objective: This study examined changes in drinking behavior after age 50 and baseline personal characteristics and subsequent life events associated with different alcohol-consumption trajectories during a 14-year follow-up period.
Method: Data were taken from the Health and Retirement Study. The study sample included individuals ages 51-61 in 1992 who survived the sample period (1992-2006) and had at least five interviews with alcohol consumption information, yielding an analysis sample of 6,787 (3,760 women). We employed linear regression to determine drinking trajectories over 1992-2006. Based on these findings, each sample person was classified into one of five drinking categories. We used multinomial logit analysis to assess the relationship between personal demographic, income, health, and attitudinal characteristics as well as life events and drinking-trajectory category.
Results: Overall, alcohol consumption declined. However, rates of decline differed appreciably among sample persons, and for a minority, alcohol consumption increased. Persons with increasing consumption over time were more likely to be affluent (relative-risk ratio [RRR] = 1.09, 95% CI [1.05, 1.12]), highly educated (RRR = 1.20, 95% CI [1.09, 1.31]), male, White (RRR = 3.54, 95% CI [1.01, 12.39]), unmarried, less religious, and in excellent to good health. A history of problem drinking before baseline was associated with increases in alcohol use, whereas the reverse was true for persons with histories of few or no drinking problems.
Conclusions: There are substantial differences in drinking trajectories at the individual level in midlife and late life. A problem-drinking history is predictive of alcohol consumption patterns in later life.