The Impacts of Drinking: Quantity Versus Frequency by Age of Drinker

April 24, 2023
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After screening for harmful alcohol use, researchers in a 2022 study1 examined differences based on age – with some interesting results. 

The study examined…

…data from 17,399 respondents who reported any alcohol consumption in the last year and were aged 18 and over from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey…”

The authors said the aim of their study…

…was to measure age-based differences in quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and how this relates to the prediction of harmful or dependent drinking.”

The bottom-line finding was that:

  • quantity mattered more for the older population, and
  • frequency mattered more for the younger population.

The authors stated…

In older drinkers, quantity per occasion was a stronger predictor of dependence than frequency per occasion.  In younger drinkers the reverse was true, with frequency a stronger predictor than quantity.”

Interestingly, based on their results, the authors wonder if…

  • heavy episodic drinking among younger people is the kind of drinking from which most can “age out”, without intervention;
  • the factor of consistent drinking among young people can eventually be developed and refined as a screening marker to help prevent serious clinical progression;
  • and if screening problematic drinking among older adults should center on drinks per occasion.

The authors close by stating…

…it appears that clinicians…might wish to look out for young drinkers who are drinking like older people (frequently) and older drinkers who are drinking like young people (more per occasion).”

They note that common tools currently used to screen for alcohol problems do not function in this manner.

A simplified yet thorough overview and discussion of this research is available


1Callinan, S., Livingston, M., Dietze, P., Gmel, G., & Room, R. (2022). Age-based differences in quantity and frequency of consumption when screening for harmful alcohol use. Addiction (Abingdon, England)117(9), 2431–2437.

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