Concurrent use of alcohol interactive medications and alcohol in older adults: a systematic review of prevalence and associated adverse outcomes

BMC Geriatr. 2017 Jul 17;17(1):148. doi: 10.1186/s12877-017-0532-2.


Background: Older adults are susceptible to adverse effects from the concurrent use of medications and alcohol. The aim of this study was to systematically review the prevalence of concurrent use of alcohol and alcohol-interactive (AI) medicines in older adults and associated adverse outcomes.

Methods: A systematic search was performed using MEDLINE (PubMed), Embase, Scopus and Web of Science (January 1990 to June 2016), and hand searching references of retrieved articles. Observational studies reporting on the concurrent use of alcohol and AI medicines in the same or overlapping recall periods in older adults were included. Two independent reviewers verified that studies met the inclusion criteria, critically appraised included studies and extracted relevant data. A narrative synthesis is provided.

Results: Twenty studies, all cross-sectional, were included. Nine studies classified a wide range of medicines as AI using different medication compendia, thus resulting in heterogeneity across studies. Three studies investigated any medication use and eight focused on psychotropic medications. Based on the quality assessment of included studies, the most reliable estimate of concurrent use in older adults ranges between 21 and 35%. The most reliable estimate of concurrent use of psychotropic medications and alcohol ranges between 7.4 and 7.75%. No study examined longitudinal associations with adverse outcomes. Three cross-sectional studies reported on falls with mixed findings, while one study reported on the association between moderate alcohol consumption and adverse drug reactions at hospital admission.

Conclusions: While there appears to be a high propensity for alcohol-medication interactions in older adults, there is a lack of consensus regarding what constitutes an AI medication. An explicit list of AI medications needs to be derived and validated prospectively to quantify the magnitude of risk posed by the concurrent use of alcohol for adverse outcomes in older adults. This will allow for risk stratification of older adults at the point of prescribing, and prioritise alcohol screening and brief alcohol interventions in high-risk groups.

Keywords: Adverse outcomes; Alcohol; Alcohol interactive; Drug interaction; Older adult; Psychotropic medicines.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Benzodiazepines / adverse effects
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Interactions / physiology
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / diagnosis
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Independent Living / trends
  • Narcotics / adverse effects
  • Observational Studies as Topic / methods
  • Prevalence
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Narcotics
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Benzodiazepines